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The 
HARP OF AEOLUS 

and others Essays on Art, 
Literature & Nature 



These essays, although written over a 

period of years, are united by a common 
theme, the relationship of the artist to 
nature. Geoffrey Grigson is both 

1 naturalist and poet. The dual approach 
has enriched his vision and given a fresh, 
and original character to all his writing. 
Thus we find him often the champion of 
neglected artists of the past or the 

i opponent of many who are popularly 
acclaimed today. Besides the vigour and 

i challenge of conviction, there are to be 
found in these essays scholarship, 
fidelity to nature and a style of writing 
as skilled and delightful as the broad- 
cast talks for which the author is 
celebrated. 



The 

HARP OF AEOLUS 

and other Essays on Art 
Literature & Nature 



by 
GEOFFREY GRIGSON 



ROUTLEDGE LONDON 



First published in England 

by GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS, LTD. 

Broadway House, 68-74 Carter Lane 

London, E.C.4 

1 947 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY THE CHISWICK PRESS, 
NEW SOUTHOATE, LONDON, N.I I. 



The Gods of the earth and sect 

Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree\ 

But their search was all in vain : 

There grows one in the Human Brain. WILLIAM BLAKE 



A poet ought not to pick nature's pocket: let him borrow, and so 
borrow as to repay by the very act of borrowing. Examine nature 
accurately, and trust more to your imagination than to your 
memory. s. T. COLERIDGE 



* % 

The great mystery of existence is the relation of the human soul to 

nature, and on that naked mystery rest the reality of faith and the 
symbolism of belief. P. E. MORE 



NOTE 

T H 3 s E essays are printed in the historical order, roughly, of their 
subjects; but they have also one subject, which is the relationship 
between artists and nature. Written, and rewritten, at various times 
in the last ten years, they have, except one, appeared severally in 
The Cornhill, Signature, The Mint, Apropos, Polemic, the New English 
Review, and the Architectural Review. The essay on Henry Moore 
was published as an introduction to his drawings in the series of 
Penguin Modern Painters. 

I am grateful to Professor Bonamy Dobree and Mrs. Dorothy 
Broughton^for telling me of William Diaper's poem Brent. 



vu 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

I. WILLIAMTDIAPER, AN UNKNOWN POET 1 

II. GEORGE STUBBS, 1724-1806 13 

III. THE HARP OF AEOLUS 24 

IV. THE VISION OF THE ENGLISH ROMANTICS 47 
V. THE UPAS TREE 56 

VI. SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANDY, A.R.A. 66 

VII. HORSE-CHESTNUT TREES 79 

VIII. THE PRERAPHAELITE MYTH 86 

IX. WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 98 

X. THOMAS HARDY 123 

XI. CONSTABLE, COURBET, AND DE CHIRICO 131 

XII. THE DRAWINGS OF HENRY MOORE 140 

XIII. HOW MUCH ME NOW YOUR ACROBATICS AMAZE 151 



IX 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

(at the end of the book) 



1 George Stubbs 

2 George Stubbs 

3 Artist Unknown 

4 Alexander Cozens 

5 J. R. Cozens 

6 Samuel Palmer 

7 H. A. Bowler 

8 Francis Danby 

9 Francis Danby 

10 Francis Danby 

1 1 Francis Danby 

12 Arthur Hughes 

13 Augustus Egg 

14 Ford Madox Brown 

15 John Constable 

16 Mary Cassat 

17 Gustave Courbet 

18 Giorgio de Chirico 

19 Henry Moore 

20 Henry Moore 



Skeleton of a Fowl 

Detail from "The Phaeton" (National 
Gallery) 

A Plurality of Worlds 

On the Rhone (T. Girtin Collection) 

Valley with Winding Streams (Victoria and 
Albert Museum) 

Pastoral with a Horse-chestnut (Ash 
molean) 

The Doubt: Can These Bones Live? 
(Tate Gallery) 

Disappointed Love (Victoria and Albert 
Museum) 

The Opening of the Sixth Seal (National 
Gallery, Dublin) 

Scene from "A Midsummer Night's 
Dream" (Oldham Art Gallery) 

Watercolour (A. P. Oppe Collection) 
The Tryst (Tate Gallery) 
Outward Bound (Ashmolean) 

Walton on the Naze (Birmingham Art 
Gallery) 

Hadleigh Castle (National Gallery) 

Femme Assise, Vue de Dos et Enfant 
(Louvre) 

In the Forest (Tate Gallery) 
Ritorno del Figliol Prodigo 
Four Grey Sleepers 
Three Women and a Child 



XI 



I 

WILLIAM DIAPER : AN UNKNOWN POET 

" w' HAVE contrived to make a parson of him, for he is half onealready, 

I being in deacon's orders, and serves a small cure in the country; 

JLbut has a sword at his arse here in town. 'Tis a poor, little, short 

wretch, but will do best in a gown, and we will make Lord Keeper 

give him a living . . ." Swift, in fact, writing to Stella, is the clue 

to this poet, of whom memory has faded away, and who has no place 

even among the perjurers, panders, murderers, forgers, clergymen, 

schoolmasters, pedants, creepers and crawlers of the Dictionary of 

National Biography. 

I came across him in four lines and a half, by themselves, without 
comment, in a book by an American; and then tracked him the 
tracking was easy enough into the Journal to Stella: 

But the vast unseen Mansions of the Deep 
Where secret Groves with liquid Amber weep, 
Where blushing Sprigs of Knotty Coral spread 
And gild the Azure with a brighter red, 
Were still untouch'd . . . 

Good enough: plenty of amber weeps and plenty of coral branches 
just on this side of 1700, and for years after that. But it is pleasant, 
like any other quest, whether for a rare plant or a piece of Bristol 
pottery, to go hunting after a new poet in the back forest of biblio- 
graphy and literature. A luxury as well, since plenty of named and 
enormous mountains stick out of the forest, and need, in a short life, 
to be climbed. One must allow oneself some luxuries; and I have 
concluded, under the cliffs of Balzac and Dante and Shakespeare and 
somewhere between the legs of Alexander Pope, that William Diaper 
was well worth finding. There was more to him than pilferings from 
Dryden, and coral and amber; the poor, little, short wretch, prefering 
a sword to a gown, had a face looking over the hill-top into that 
luxuriant, overpowering valley of literature that leads towards 
ourselves. 

The four lines and a half came from Nereides, or Sea Eclogues, 
published in 1712, and dedicated to William Congreve, then an 
established elegant arbiter of forty- two, well provided for, and with 
his plays famous and far behind him. The lines came in fact from the 
dedicatory verses. When he published Nereides, William Diaper was 

1 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

twenty-seven. He had gone up to Oxford as "pauper puer", the son 
of a poor man from Bridgwater, in Somerset; he took his B.A. from 
Balliol, he was curate of Brent, also in Somerset (about which he 
wrote a dank, bitter and amusing poem), and by 1717 he was dead. 
Swift knew him when Nereides came out. He told Stella: 

Here is a young fellow has writ some Sea Eclogues, Poems of 
Mermen, resembling pastorals of Shepherds, and they are very 
pretty, and the thought is new. Mermen are he-mermaids; Tritons, 
natives of the sea. Do you understand me? I think to recommend 
him to our Society to-morrow. His name is Diaper. Pox on him, 
I must do something for him, and get him out of the way. I hate 
to have any new wits rise, but when they do rise I would encourage 
them; but they tread on our heels and thrust us off the stage. 

Diaper lived to thrust no one off, lived only for that short space by 
which writers, making no splash, can thrust none but themselves into 
the dark. 

He owes much to Swift, who has left the only clues to his person, 
and who brought him indeed among his friends: "The author of the 
Sea Eclogues sent books to the Society yesterday, and we gave him 
guineas a-piece; and, may be, will do further from him (for him, I 
mean)." Swift was pushing Parnell forward at the same time. He 
gave Lord Bolingbroke a poem of Parnell 's: "I made Parnell insert 
some compliments in it to his lordship." Parnell made his splash; 
he is a name at least, even now, around which a little criticism has 
gathered; but in Parnell, whose poems clung so long to their place 
in the anthologies and the collections, there is one sparkle of fire for 
scores in Diaper. "This morning I presented one Diaper, a poet, to 
Lord Bolingbroke, with a new poem, which is a very good one; and 
I am to give him a sum of money from my lord." The poem it was 
still in manuscript was Dryades\ or, The Nymphs Prophecy, printed 
very soon after, in 1713, by Lintott, who in the same year, and the 
same font and format, printed Pope's Windsor Forest. Diaper was 
twenty-eight, Pope twenty-five. Pope had published the Essay on 
Criticism, The Rape of the Lock, and a good deal else. Diaper was 
nobody, and a nobody's son, had no capital but his wits a poor, 
little, short wretch who did not commend himself to Pope, But 
Dryades, no less than Windsor Forest, was a poem, and "a very good 
one". There was no error in Swift's judgement, as we shall see. If 
Swift could detect in Diaper, at first view, a rising wit capable of 
treading upon the heels of his elders and thrusting them from the 
stage, Pope perhaps could see a poet who might dilute his own com- 

2 



WILLIAM DIAPER: AN UNKNOWN POET 
ing supremacy. Maybe, as well, Diaper had teeth, was envious of this 
younger, better placed poet, and had feared Pope's entry into Swift's 
friendship; had offended Pope, and more than Pope, by his character. 
Why else should we know so little about him? Why else should Pope, 
ten years after Diaper's death, have fitted him out with a couplet in 
The. Dunciad: 

Far worse, unhappy D r succeeds, 

He search'd for Coral, but he gather'd weeds. . . . 

two lines which he cancelled cancelled, Professor Sutherland has 
suggested, because Swift intervened in faithfulness to his own 
patronage of Diaper (and in faithfulness, one might add, to his own 
estimate of Diaper's talent)? 

Diaper's next appearance was a verse letter to Swift, An Imitation 
of the Seventeenth Epistle of the First Book of Horace, Addressed to Dr. 

S ft. He sent it to Swift, in manuscript, and Swift replied, and 

liked it, and promised to speak once more for his preferment in the 
gown "I will move heaven and earth that something may be done 
for you." What he did not approve so much was Diaper's leaning 
towards translation. Pope was busy on the Iliad, Diaper beginning 
(and wasting his time, as Swift must have thought) a translation of 
Oppian on fishes; it was the last surviving thing he wrote, though the 
two books he finished appeared only after he was dead. * And about his 
death, four years later Diaper was ill, seriously ill, before the verse 
letter was written, and before it was published: "I was to see a poor 
poet, one Mr. Diaper," Stella was told early in 1713, "in a nasty 
garret, very sick. I gave him twenty guineas from Lord Bolingbroke." 
Swift and Parnell had walked about the same time to see Swift's other 
protege, William Harrison, bringing him not twenty guineas, but a 
hundred pounds. He too was ill. Swift was afraid to knock: "I 
knocked, and his man in tears told me his master was dead an hour 
before." William Harrison had contrived to write some two or three 
poems several years earlier. He was not "a poor, little, short wretch", 
but "a little pretty fellow, with a great deal of wit, good sense, and 
good nature". Peering, in fact, into Swift's silences and omissions and 
comments on Diaper, recalling Pope's contempt ten years after the 
earth was round him, one may surmise that there was something 
about the wretch swagger, bounce, obsequiousness, spinelessness, 
perhaps a smartness and snottiness of character which damned him, 
kept him from preferment and from the advertised company of the 

* l Brent was also printed after his death, in Curll's Miscellanea 1726. A manu- 
script of it in Diaper's hand is in the Bodleian. 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

elect, in spite of Swift's recognition of his talent; kept him from such 
friendship as Dryden gave to John Oldham, and major has so often 
conferred, to the confusion of critics, upon the less deserving minor; 
something which, at last, cut him off from even the scraggy, pos- 
thumous laurels of a contribution to Modern Language Notes or the 
Review of English Studies. Dryades was once, at any rate, reprinted. 
Joseph Warton remembered both Dryades and the Oppian and hoped 
to see them anthologized. Beljame kicked Diaper's forgotten corpse 
in 1881, and in 1943 Professor Sutherland called him "an inoffensive 
young poetaster". Only Swift declared him to be a wit, and an able 
writer; and no one has bothered to see if Swift was right. 

ii 

As he was indeed; and for a good many reasons. Not simply (the 
reason that might have been given twenty years ago for celebrating a 
discovery of Diaper) because he foreruns a later concern for the de- 
tails and the mood of nature 

Be still, ye Aspin boughs, nor restless scare 
With busy trembling Leaves, the list'ning Hare, 

for such "anticipations" or beginnings are everywhere around 
1700; but in the main because Diaper wrote with a purity of English, 
with an uncommon neatness and sharpness of form, and delicacy of 
ear. He was level, in most ways, with his time, and not behind it, not 
derivative. He could see, he could hear, he could shape; and second 
to few of his coevals, he partook in the best sense of the prettiness of 
his age, the prettiness of Pope's statement that "there is certainly 
something in the amiable simplicity of unadorned Nature, that 
spreads over the mind a more noble sort of tranquillity, and a loftier 
sensation of pleasure, than can be raised from the nicer scenes of art", 
the prettiness of Pope remarking "That Idea of the Picturesque, from 
the swan just gilded with the sun amidst the shade of a tree over the 
water." 

Here are two pieces which show that not inconsiderable virtue: 

But now the Huntsman takes his usual Round, 
While list'ning Foxes hear th' unwelcome Sound; 
And early Peasants, who prevent the Day, 
May hither chance unweening guide their Way; 
For see the greyish Edge of Dawn appears, 
Night her Departure mourns in dewy Tears. 
The Goblins vanish, and the Elfin Queen 
Foregoes the Pleasures of the trampled Green. 
4 



WILLIAM DIAPER: AN UNKNOWN POET 
Nature's unwilling to be rouz'd so soon, 
And Earth looks pale on the declining Moon; 
The nimble Hours dress out th' impatient Sun, 
While rising Fogs, and whisp'ring Gales fore-run. 
The Bats (a doubtful kind) begin their Sleep, 
And to their Cells the darken 'd Glowe Worms creep; 
The coming Day the conscious Insects grieve, 
And with slow Haste the grateful Herbage leave, 
Wreath o'er the Grass, and the moist Path pursue, 
Streaking with viscous Slime the shining Dew; 
In some close Shade a friendly Covert find, 
And Parent Earth receives the reptile Kind. 
Guilt, and the Day disturb the wily Snakes, 
And Urchins hide their Theft in thorny Brakes. 
All fly the Sun, and seek a cool Retreat, 
Nor envy buzzing Swarms, who joy in scorching Heat . . . 

When they (they is the shodl of slime-fish) in Throngs a 

safe Retirement seek, 

Where pointed Rocks the rising Surges break, 
Or where calm Waters in their Bason sleep, 
While chalky Cliffs o'erlook the shaded Deep, 
The Seas all gilded o'er the Shoal betray 
And shining Tracks inform their wand'ring Way. 
As when soft Snows, brought down by Western Gales, 
Silent descend and spread on all the Vales; 
Add to the Plains, and on the Mountains shine, 
While in chang'd Fields the starving Cattle pine; 
Nature bears all one Face, looks coldly bright, 
And mourns her lost Variety in white, 
Unlike themselves the Objects glare around, 
And with false Rays the dazzled Sight confound: 
So where the Shoal appears, the changing Streams 
Lose their Sky-blew, and shine with Silver Gleams. 

The first is from the "very good" poem of Swift's praise Dryades; 
the second is translation very close translation from Oppian's 
Halieutica. Neither, to my ear, is the work of a "young poetaster", 
but of a poet with skill and nicety; and in each piece there are lines, 
not competent, not description, but of that mens divinior, that dignity 
of genius which Dr. Johnson denied to Diaper's contemporary, John 
Gay the line 

And Earth looks pale on the declining Moon . . . 
5 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

And 

Nature bears all one Face, looks coldly bright 
And mourns her lost Variety in White . . . 

in which the pause enforced by the meeting of the two open syllables 
Variety in White is half the making of the line, in sound, and in 
vision of a snow-gleaming world. There is not so much writing of 
that order, that imaginative order, at any time, and in Diaper's time 
especially. Even in the gold and silver wire of Pope, in his nicer lines 
of art, there is a want of felt life, of interpreted nature which makes 
for a frigid prettiness (which it does often avoid). Gay's shortcoming 
illuminates Diaper's occasional fullness. Copious, skilful, able at 
times to write a song of a natural and controlled delightfulness, Gay 
in his long poems often reflects nature with a tedious impersonal 
accuracy; simply transcribes: 

Her solid globe beats back the sunny rays 

And to the whole world her borrow'd light repays . . . 

That is moon enough for Gay; a moon of empty matter of fact such 
as Diaper could never have committed. Gay is best when he is 
lightest and briefest or when he takes on, as far as his nature per- 
mitted him, some of the coarseness and hardness of satire a hardness 
which may have been outside Diaper's grasp altogether. 

He search'd for Coral, but he gather'd Weeds 

What Pope meant, or felt, perhaps, is a want of that moral toughness 
and gravity which drove him and Swift and Defoe, and even Edward 
Young, the Polonius of the time, into deeper fjords of poetry: 

Could I not, thro' all his Ermin, 
Spy the strutting chatt'ring Vermin? 

FRIEND: You're strangely proud. 

POPE: So proud I am no Slave, 

So impudent, I own myself no Knave: 

So odd, my Country's Ruin makes me grave . . . 

"No writing is good that does not tend to better mankind some way 
or other," said Pope, and that involved driving in some moral. At 
least in that sense, so far as he lived to write, and on the evidence of 
what he did manage to write, Diaper may not have been level with his 
time. Diaper's practice might more nearly be justified by that excel- 
lent critic John Dennis, on the grounds that "Poetry therefore is 

6 



WILLIAM DIAPER: AN UNKNOWN POET 

Poetry, because 'tis more passionate and sensual than Prose", still 
more (going back) by Dryden's "I am satisfied if it cause delight." 
His prettiness, his wit, are kept from being mere needlework, or frost 
flowers on a window-pane, because he committed so few untruths to 
nature; as his two books from Oppian exemplify, because nothing 
would have been easier in 1713 than to translate Oppian on the habits 
and copulative peculiarities of fish into a cold, smart, fanciful un- 
reality. Diaper is smart; but he remembers himself, he steers between 
exaggeration, between a witty pleasantry of style and that obedience 
to nature which had produced "And mourns her lost Variety in 
White." 

"As he had a Wit that was capable of shining on any Subject," said 
Diaper's friend who edited and completed his version of the Halieut- 
ica, "so his Translation shows him to have had a peculiar Genius for 
Natural History. Where the Images are brighter than ordinary, he 
has somewhat paraphrased the Author, but nowhere, I believe, 
deviated from his Sense and Intention. The Richness of his Fancy 
and copious Expression maintain the Character and Spirit of Oppian, 
even while he recedes from the Letter of the Original." 

The "peculiar Genius for Natural History", in the stricter and the 
wider sense, goes through all Diaper's verse, in the bits I have 
quoted, in Brent and also in his verse letter to Swift: 

A Wretch made for a Country Life 
True to his Pulpit and his Wife, 
Who all his Pride and Grandeur shews 
In Funeral Scarff and Hatband-Rose; 
Could not his Dress or Manners fashion 
To suit with any higher Station . . . 

The Country Parson turn'd in Years, 
Is neither plagu'd with Hopes or Fears, 
But undisturb'd in Study pent, 
Or is or would be thought content; 
In sullen Contemplation sits, 
Pities the Bishops, rails at Wits. 

None (says old Crape) would cringe and fawn 
For silver Verge or Sleeves of Lawn; 
Or lordly Pow'r ambitious seek, 
Could they their Fast, as we do break, 
And dine on Pie, as Parsons must, 
Made of Tithe- Apples and plain Crust 
7 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

And Diaper's peculiar genius, his variety of movement within the 
strictness of form, his brightness of image, and liveliness, and weav- 
ing of a complex pattern of sound lights up passage after passage of 
the Oppian. Here are five pieces, without more comment, except to 
notice in the last a borrowing of snakes from Pope in Windsor Forest 
(though conceivably it might have been the other way round): 

1 

Strange the Formation of the Eely Race 
That knows no Sex, yet loves the close Embrace. 
Their folded Lengths they round each other twine, 
Twist am'rous Knots, and slimy Bodies joyn; 
Till the close Strife brings off a frothy Juice, 
The Seed that must the wriggling Kind produce. 
Regardless they their future offspring leave, 
But porous Sands the spumy Drops receive. 
That genial Bed impregnates all the Heap, 
And little Eelets soon begin to creep. 

2 

Eagles, Sea-Dogs, and all the Gristly Race 
Bring forth their like, no shapeless clotted Mass; 
Retain the Seed within till perfect grown, 
And Nature has her just Proportions shown. 
From the full Womb Amphibious Paddlers creep 
And little Sea-Calves bustle on the Deep. 

3 

Justly might Female Tortoises complain, 
To whom Enjoyment is the greatest Pain. 
They dread the Tryal, and foreboding hate 
The growing Passion of the cruel Mate. 
He amorous pursues, They conscious fly 
Joyless caresses, and resolv'd deny. 
Some partial Heaven has thus restrained the Bliss. 
The Males they welcome with a closer Kiss, 
Bite angry, and reluctant Hate declare. 
The Tortoise-Courtship is a State of War. 
Eager they fight, but with unlike Design, 
Males to obtain, and Females to decline. 

4 

The flouncing Horse here restiff drives his way, 
And Soles on Sands their softer Bellies lay. 

8 



WILLIAM DIAPER: AN UNKNOWN POET 

5 

The Lamprey, glowing with uncommon Fires, 
The Earth-bred Serpents purfled Curls admires. 
He no less kind makes amorous Returns, 
With equal Love the grateful Serpent burns. 
Fixt on the Joy he bounding shoots along, 
Erects his azure Crest, and darts his forky Tongue. 
Now his red Eye-balls glow with doubled Fires; 
Proudly he mounts upon his folded Spires, 
Displays his glossy Coat, and speckled Side, 
And meets in all his Charms the wat'ry Bride. 
But least he cautless might his Consort harm, 
The gentle Lover will himself disarm, 
Spit out the venom'd mass, and careful hide 
In cranny 'd Rocks, far from the washing Tide; 
There leaves the Furies of his noxious Teeth, 
And putrid Bags, the pois'nous Fund of Death. 
His Mate he calls with softly hissing Sounds; 
She joyful hears, and from the Ocean bounds. 
Swift as the bearded Arrow's Hast she flies, 
To her own Love, and meet the Serpent's Joys. 
At her approach, no more the Lover bears 
Odious Delay, nor sounding Waters fears. 
Onward he moves on shining Volumes roll'd, 
The Foam all burning seems with wavy Gold. 
At length with equal Hast the Lovers meet, 
And strange Enjoyments slake their mutual Heat. 
She with wide-gaping Mouth the Spouse invites, 
Sucks in his Head, and feels unknown Delights. 
When full Fruition has asswag'd Desire, 
Well-pleas 'd the Bride will to her Home retire. 
Tir'd with the Strife the Serpent hies to Land, 
And leaves his Prints on all the furrow'd Sand. 

Here, too, are fourteen lines from Brent: 

Had mournfull Ovid been to Brent condemn'd, 
His Tristibus He would more movingly hath pen'd. 
Gladly He would have chang'd this miry slough 
For colder Pontus, and the Scythian snow. 
The Getes were not so barbarous a race, 
As the grim natives of this motly place, 
Of reason void, and thought, whom instinct rules, 





THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Yet will be rogues tho' nature meant 'em fools, 
A strange half-humane, and ungainly brood, 
Their speech uncouth, as are their manners rude; 
When they would seem to speak, the mortals roar 
As loud as waves contending with the shore, 
Their widened mouths into a circle grow, 
For all their vo wells are but A and O. 



in 

I have indicated Diaper, with some inch by inch selections, not 
measured him for his place by describing and evaluating and classify- 
ing his poems, which is a job for some future editor, and historian. 
He is a poet; and not a dull poet. He can be enjoyed for himself, 
without that confusion caused when value and a place in the history 
of literature are mixed up. But he does need to be put back in the 
line, to enjoy a merited reputation. 

Only good poets, and strikingly bad or ridiculous ones with some- 
thing of the good poet's gift for line and order, can push isolated bits 
of verse into one's memory whether one wills to have them there or 
no. After I first read Diaper I found a number of his lines added to 
my stock, with the many retained from Dryden and Swift and Pope, 
and the fewer pushed in from such different writers as Oldharn, and 
Defoe, and Young, the Countess of Winchilsea and Charles Churchill. 
But there is something else in Diaper and his fate which entices com- 
ment. How many other writers of as much worth as Diaper have 
dropped from sight and are still unknown? As I have suggested, the 
writers who vanish are those who enjoy little or no repute in their 
lives, who make, or have made for them by the accidents of fame and 
acquaintance, no "splash", who find little or no place in memoirs and 
gossip and letters. Fluctuations of esteem from age to age are another 
matter. Once the life-time reputation is made, a man's writings, 
known, recorded in bibliographies, dealt with rightly or wrongly by 
scholars and scholiasts, are there always to be re-examined or re- 
shelved, to burn high or low. It may reflect badly and sadly upon 
our human discernment that if, pef contra, a writer, or an artist, does 
assume a false valuation of himself in his life on earth, does splash 
energetically, does affix himself to the ruling circles of his art, and 
contrive to make others accept that valuation, he can (if he writes 
copiously) contrive to be known and to be overvalued for perhaps a 
century or two after his burial with honours. His personality and 

10 



WILLIAM DIAPER: AN UNKNOWN POET 
conduct in life, his possession or his lack of charm can do the trick, 
irrespective of any powers of imagination. Diaper seems to have 
lacked this ability to charm his patrons. He has served the sentence 
that such ill-fate imposes. 

Douglas Bush tells us, in his volume of the new Oxford History of 
English Literature (a book of American scholarship, not scholiasm, 
which has been wickedly under-esteemed and under-reviewed) that 
some forty years before Diaper's birth, only 600 books were pub- 
lished in one year; that the population of England was about five 
million compared with "the two hundred million people nowadays 
whose language is English". If Diaper's books could disappear so 
easily among so few, and still stay out of sight even after the develop- 
ment of modern scholarship, what are the chances now, in the vast, 
outpouring of "literature" among two hundred million users of 
English, with our own lessened respect and coarsened senses, of 
books of real worth staying hidden, perhaps for ever? 

Douglas Bush reminds us as well, of the century before Diaper, 
that nearly all the works of prose "which we now read as 'literature* 
were written as contributions to religion, ethics, politics, science, 
travel, and other fields of enquiry and instruction". Belles lettres had 
not been invented: "few of the makers of seventeenth-century litera- 
ture were merely men of letters". How much literature do we hide 
beneath our mere invention and restriction of the term? How much 
do we fail to see because we look all the time for literature to the pro- 
fessional men of letters? Like Diaper's poems, good novels can drop 
into quick forgetfulness in our vast, rat-like proliferation. Two 
which occur to me are Lord Kilmarnock's remarkable novel of good 
against evil, Ferelith, and Moonfleet, John Meade Falkner's story of 
adventure, two books which are small and do not shake the world, 
but yet deserve the celebrity of minor classics. Ferelith has been a 
delight to Andre Gide, Moonfleet has its small circle of devotees; but 
neither are in print, neither have I seen mentioned in any critical 
survey of English fiction of our century. And both were written by 
authors who had no care to make a splash, both by authors, like those 
of the seventeenth century, who were not "merely men of letters". 
No one has ever considered as "literature" and literature they are 
'the travel books of the rock gardener Reginald Farrer. Many poets 
whose life-time celebrity was small, or ephemeral, or who were never 
celebrated, have come tardily, incompletely, or almost accidentally 
into a fame that the viability of their work entitles them to. Three, for 
example, are William Barnes, Gerard Hopkins, and John Clare, 
three men scarcely, or never affixed, to those circles which publicly 

11 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

presided over literature in their day. The artists, since we have no 
art history and look upon it still without enthusiasm, are in a case 
even more obscuring. Their pictures are scattered (not buried as 
books which, at least, having been published, are in the catalogue of 
the British Museum Library awaiting some deliverer), their lives 
concealed, their letters unpreserved. That we know at all of Samuel 
Palmer's remarkable passion is due perhaps to two men, to his son, 
and to his friend George Richmond, who preserved a tradition in his 
family of Palmer's excellence. How many other artists lie hidden, 
between 1780 and to-day, hidden and neglected under the moun- 
tainous and not always merited reputation of other men? 

The conclusion is, we must sharpen our tastes in our own lifetime, 
explore, be self-reliant, and be sceptical of those narrow, vocal, and 
powerful circles of the day who dictate to us our preferences in art 
and letters (who are no less exempt than reviewers, the Black Militia 
of the Pen, from Coleridge's remark that "praises of the unworthy 
are felt by ardent minds as robberies of the deserving"); and we must 
be thankful, whatever their imperfections, however much they seem 
in their activities like those scholiasts of the ancient world whom we 
were taught to despise in our own school days, however much we 
think of them as dry parasites, or at least epiphytes, dry lichens upon 
the tree of life, however much they are wrong, however, insensible 
they are to the meanings of life and the "livingness" of a book or a 
painting we must be thankful for scholars, for bibliographers, for 
pedants. "Would the mole have discovered the fine gold?" Perhaps 
not, but the busy moles may at least excavate buried life even if they 
may not detect for us how it speaks and breathes. And Diaper is in 
the Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. 



12 



GEORGE STUBBS, 1724-1806 

No o N E has justly appreciated the reach and the character of the 
art of George Stubbs. It is often declared now that Stubbs 
is a fine artist, or a great artist; but no one has yet examined 
all that Stubbs produced in sixty years of drawing, engraving, and 
painting, and set down a critical estimation of its worth. It would 
be a long job; and no one has faced it because at present the work 
cannot be seen at all easily. There are only a few pictures by Stubbs 
in public galleries in London or elsewhere; and most of the paintings 
that we do see, or that we can see in the country houses for which 
they were commissioned, are bread-and-butter paintings. Some of 
them are thorough and masterly, and justify a high rank for Stubbs, 
but it is the fact that Stubbs was incidentally a horse-painter, or a 
"sporting-painter". Horse-painter the description goes back to 
Fuseli and his own lifetime is not the right description for him at 
all. He was a painter who painted horses. That is a different thing. 
And if his "sporting" pictures, and the prints from them, and the 
Anatomy of the Horse have kept his price up in the sale-rooms, their 
horsiness have kept his reputation fairly low in the books on art. He 
has never been made one of the classic hierarchy of English painting. 
Actually the greater part of his work in oil has gone underground. 
His drawings are well known to be rare. The Royal Academy owns a 
portfolio of the pencil drawings for the Anatomy of the Horse, among 
them a few which were not engraved. There are one or two drawings 
at Liverpool. A few others came into the market three or four years 
ago. But the majority have vanished. There were hundreds of them. 
Stubbs's paintings and drawings were sold in 1807, the year after his 
death, and in the first day's sale 1 there were seventy- two drawings, 
including landscape drawings and studies of a rhinoceros. In the 
second day's sale nearly nine hundred drawings were sold "Lot 21. 
One Book with thirteen sketches of Foetus's, etc."; Lot 22, One Book 
with two hundred Landscapes, Views and Sketches"; "Lot 24, One 
Book with twelve Monkeys, fourteen Buffaloes, Bulls and Cows, in 
black lead, and two Tibet Bulls in black chalk"; "Lot 29, One Book 
with fifteen Sketches from Nature of Trees in black chalk" and so 
on. The studies in oil include fruit pieces, landscapes, portraits, 
studies of green wood-peckers and a nightjar and swallow, and a 
painting of auriculas. 

1 The Sale Catalogue is reprinted in George Stubbs, by Sir Walter Gilbey. 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

The disappearance of most of these drawings and paintings seems 
due to one thing: that in 1807 there was next to no taste for Stubbs, 
since he was a mid-eighteenth century painter with an eighteenth 
century liking for order, classification, and clarity. Stubbs, remem- 
ber, was born in 1724. He grew up in the North, he worked under an 
eighteenth-century provincial master, Hamlet Winstanley, 1 and he 
was a man of thirty-two, an anatomist and a painter with his mind 
made up, by the time that Burke published his Enquiry into The 
Sublime and Beautiful. 

Ozias Humphry, R.A., a much younger man, is the only authority 
I know for these early years. 2 According to him, Stubbs helped in 
his father's tannery business until he was fifteen; and when he was 
only eight he had * 'bones of prepared subjects dissected and lent to 
him by Doctor Holt, a benevolent neighbour". He dissected horses 
and dogs during his Liverpool boyhood, and by the time he was 
twenty-two he was lecturing on anatomy to medical students at 
York. At York he acquired the body of a woman who had died 
before giving birth to a child; and with this and other material he 
made the dissections, drawings, and engravings which Dr. Burton, 
the original for Dr. Slop in Tristram Shandy, needed for his Essay 
Towards A Complete New System of Midwifry (1751). These plates, 
engraved when he was twenty-two, are the earliest work by Stubbs 
that I have seen. They have or some of them at least have his 
later apprehension of solidity and substance. "About the year 1754" 
he went to Italy (Richard Wilson was then in Rome); and according 
to Humphry in a statement which has often been quoted, he went to 
test "nature" against art: 

Let us not escape notice that Stubbs's motive for going thither 
was to convince himself that nature was and is always superior to 
art, whether Greek or Roman and having received this con- 
viction he immediately resolved upon returning home. 

But nature for Stubbs was the nature of natural facts which could be 
tidied into a system; something different, very different, from nature 
for James Ward, or Wordsworth, or Constable, half a century later, 
when Stubbs died. He had the scientific tastes of an experimenter 

1 There is a portrait by Winstanley in the Tate. 

2 The memoir of Stubbs by Joseph Mayer (1879) is not, as Mayer declares, and 
everyone else has declared since, based upon notes taken down from Stubbs himself 
by William Upcott. The Picton Library in Liverpool contains two small MS. 
volumes. One of these is a rough copy of a memoir of Stubbs in Ozias Humphry's 
handwriting. The other is a fair copy in handwriting of Upcott (who was Hum- 
phry's illegitimate son). Humphry and Stubbs had been friendly for many years; 
there is no evidence that Upcott and Stubbs knew each other at all. 

14 



GEORGE STUBBS, 1724-1806 

and an observer, and science in his day was widening from physics to 
natural science, from a Newtonian Royal Society, to a Royal Society 
under the botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Stubbs might now have painted 
under the motto from Bacon that 

Those, who determine not to conjecture and guess, but to find 
out and know; not to invent fables and romances of worlds, but to 
look into, and dissect the nature of this real world, must consult 
only things themselves. 

And it was not so long before, in the famous lonely farm at Horkstow, 
he was bleeding horses by the jugular vein, steeping them till they 
were near putrefying, rigging them up on hooks in the kitchen and 
injecting their veins and blood vessels with tallow. He was eighteen 
months on this work of dissection and draughtsmanship, with his 
mistress, Mary Spencer, and presumably their two-year-old son. 
George Townley Stubbs, who grew up to engrave so much of his 
father's painting so badly. The Anatomy seems to have been planned 
as the doorstep to a career in London. Ozias Humphry says that he 
painted, at his mother's house in Liverpool, "his own grey mare, 
which was thought to have succeeded greatly, so that when Mr. 
Parsons, a picture dealer from London, saw it, he said that he was 
sure the author of that picture if he came to town would make 
his fortune in that line of art"; and he then decided to undertake 
the Anatomy on the suggestion "of his young surgical friends at 
York". 

He came to London in 1758 or 1759, and kept himself comfortable 
by painting horses, chiefly the delightful Grosvenor Hunt was 
painted in 1762 while he etched away in the early mornings and at 
night on the Anatomy plates. This six years of labour repaid him 
well. When the Anatomy was ready in 1766, it was ordered by ar- 
tists, by scientists at home and abroad and by the country gentlemen 
and noblemen of England; and the country gentlemen and noblemen 
went on employing Stubbs for the next thirty years. 

I do not think it is realized how much Stubbs achieved. Many of 
the plates are brilliant in design, exact, powerful, and exciting. That 
is admitted. But scientifically it was original the Anatomy was sur- 
prisingly original for a man who was an amateur in science. There 
had been no previous book on the anatomy of the horse with plates 
which were scientifically exact. The one book of importance was 
Carlo Ruini's DelV Anatomia et delV Informita del Cavallo of 1598. 
It is a book of masterly engravings, but the horse for the most part 
a dead horse has always a stylized, heroic attitude which would have 

15 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

repelled Stubbs or any artist or anatomist of his time. In the Ana- 
tomy of An Horse, by Edward Snape (1683), and in De Saunier's 
Perfect Knowledge of Horses, of which there was an English edition in 
1743, the figures are lifted from Ruini, and vulgarized. Stubbs 
started really with nothing; and finally planned that his actual book 
should take the form, very sensibly, of the sumptuous Tabulae 
Sceleti et Musculorum Corporis Humani (1747) of Albinus, in which 
the plates of skeletons, or partly dissected men, walking about in 
landscapes in expository attitudes, had been finished in ten years by 
the Dutch artist Jan Wandelaar. As in Wandelaar's book, separate 
keys go with each plate in the Anatomy of the Horse. The figures are 
not spotted with letters, which would spoil their effect and their 
accuracy. But Stubbs discarded the rhetorical scenery in which 
Wandelaar's figures moved or posed; and he presents always a living 
horse, in stages of anatomical undress, without frippery or adjunct. , 

There is no doubt at all of Stubbs's success with the eighteenth- 
century scientists. The Anatomy is "splendidum opus" in von 
Haller's Bibliotheca Anatomica eleven years later. It gave Stubbs the 
friendship and patronage of the greatest natural scientist of the time, 
John Hunter, and also, it seems, of the young and wealthy Joseph 
Banks. When Banks came back from his Australian voyage with 
Captain Cook five years later, with the first "kongouros", or kan- 
garoos, one of them was painted by Stubbs. 1 The Anatomy brought 
him letters from one of the leading European scientists and anatom- 
ists, Peter Camper, and praise, towards the end of the century, from 
another great European, Blumenbach. Camper's judgment exem- 
plifies the expert view. "The representations of Carlo Ruini," he 
says, "are useful to convey a general idea of the anatomy of the parts; 
but they cannot serve the painter." But Stubbs's work "is masterly 
and accurate; all the parts are properly placed, and in just propor- 
tions, and well delineated. In his finished pieces the muscles are 
represented with an accuracy that cannot be exceeded. In a word, his 
skeleton of the horse, and his arrangement of the muscles, exhibit 
such a masterpiece, that the author deserves the highest honours 
which were ever bestowed upon an artist." 2 

It is not pedantry to emphasize Stubbs's scientific as against his 
aesthetic triumph in the Anatomy of the Horse. It confirmed him in 

1 Banks owned work by Stubbs. See Sporting Magazine, November 1809 
(quoted by Gilbey, page 230). 

1 The Works of the late Professor Camper on the Connexion between The Science of 
Anatomy and The Arts of Drawing, Painting, Statuary, etc., etc., translated from the 
Dutch by T. Cogan, M'.D., 1794. The last sentence is translator's hyperbole and 
licence: Camper wrote that Stubbs "deserved a statue for such a fine work". 

16 



GEORGE STUBBS, 1724-1806 

his life and attitude, and it helped to keep him a mid-eighteenth- 
century artist, in a changing and somewhat fake climate of sublimity, 
beauty and the picturesque. It helped, in other words, to destroy his 
ultimate reputation, to send his pictures out of sight after his death, 
and to make it difficult for us now to discover exactly how good an 
artist he was. Stubbs kept nearer to his own scientific view than to 
the aesthetic changes of his life-time. That is the point. 

And this temperamental and reasoned preference would have 
beggared him if he had not been able to combine science and aristo- 
cratic horseflesh with a good will. But not always a good will. The 
Anatomy brought him a mass of work, which he tackled with energy, 
finding time also to draw lions, lionesses, tigers, leopards, from the 
life in the Tower of London and elsewhere. But fourteen years later 
he was regretting that his fame was tied so certainly to animals. He 
complained of this when he was working for Josiah Wedgwood in 
1780. Wedgwood wrote to his partner, Thomas Bentley, and hopes 
that the portraits he is painting "will give him a character which is 
entirely new to him, for nobody suspects Mr. Stubbs of painting 
anything but horses & lions, or dogs & tigers, & I can scarcely make 
anyone believe that he ever attempted a human figure. 

I find Mr. S. resents much his having established this character 
for himself, & wishes to be considered an history, & portrait 
painter. How far he will succeed in bringing about the change at 
his time of life I do not know." 1 

He did not really succeed. Getting away from one's public char- 
acter is not so easy, and Stubbs never properly divorced himself 
from animals right up to the time of his death. He remained true to 
himself, with an accurate eye upon things. He allowed himself to be a 
little, but not very deeply, affected by the feeling and fashion which 
were developing in his middle years. Sublimity, for example. He 
attempted to be sublime now and then, in his horses terrified or 
clawed by lions, in his Phaeton and The Horses of the Sun, or in his 
bulls fighting in a grand, and rather genial, clinch. Sublimity, it was 
laid down by Burke, depended upon the effect of terror; and its means 
were height, depth, obscurity, darkness, solitude, silence, variety. 
Stubbs had no dislike of animals wounded, or trapped, or terrified. 
His wild beasts and his frightened animals had the right effect. 

His lion and tyger fighting near a dead stag larger than life, his 
lion killing a horse, a tyger lying in his den large as life, appearing 

1 Letters of Josiah Wedgwood to Thomas Bentley. Edited by Lady Fairer. 
Vol. II, pp. 485, 486. 

B 17 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

as it were disturbed and listening . . .* are pictures that must rouse 
and agitate the most inattentive. 

wrote Burke's protege, James Barry, in a letter home to Ireland in 
1765 or 1766. He made natural studies of terror. His "White Horse 
frighten'd at the Lyon," says Ozias Humphry, "was painted from 
one of the King's Horses in the Mews which Mr. Payne the architect 
procured for him. The expression of terror was produced, repeatedly, 
from time to time by pushing a brush upon the ground towards him 
and this aided by his Anatomical skill enabled him to give the Senti- 
ment to the Animal which the picture represents." But Sentiments 
are still sentiments, or typical states, and some of the varieties of 
passion in the features of Stubbs 's animals seem to me to come 
straight out of Le Brun's illustrations of Passions, copies of which 
Stubbs possessed. And anyway the sublime framework which was 
suitable for sublimely agitated animals was not the framework which 
appealed to him. He preferred mild grass land and trees to dark, 
rocky and sublime landscape. "The White Horse Frightened at The 
Lion", or at any rate, the version of it in the Walker Art Gallery at 
Liverpool, does come near sublimity, not only in its figures, but in 
its depths, its crags and waterfall and darkness; but there is evidence 
in the landscape itself, and in a letter by John Hunter to Jenner, 2 that 
the figures only were by Stubbs, while their sublime theatre had been 
painted by Barrett. "Hardly anything can strike the mind with its 
greatness, which does not make some sort of approach towards 
infinity; which nothing can do whilst we are able to perceive its 
bounds, but to see an object distinctly, and to perceive its bounds is 
one and the same thing. A clear idea is therefore another name for a 
little idea" (Burke). But Stubbs in his pictures seldom made an 
approach to the infinite. He used a few compositions elements and 
odds and ends all complete after Gaspard Poussin, Salvator Rosa, 
Claude and Vernet; but he kept on seeing distinctly, if in bits. 

The sublime case against Stubbs is well concentrated in the few 
sharp lines which were all that Fuseli gave him in his version of 
Pilkington's Dictionary. The paragraph (there is a copy of it, in 
Fuseli's handwriting, in the British Museum) classifies him and tucks 
him away severely: 

That his skill in comparative anatomy never suggested to him 
the propriety of style in forms, if it were not eminently proved by 

1 Works of James Barry. Vol. I, p. 23 (1809). 

* Undated: "I have a picture of Barret and Stubbs. The landscape, by Barret; 
a horse frightened at the first seeing of a lion, by Stubbs.'* John Baron's Life of 
Edward Jenner, Vol. I, p. 34. . 

18 



GEORGE STUBBS, 1724-1806 

his Phaeton with The Horses of the Sun, would be evident from 
all his other figures which, when humans are seldom more than the 
attendants of some animal, whilst the style of the animals them- 
selves depended entirely on the individual before him; his Tiger 
for grandeur has never been equalled, his Lions are to those of 
Rubens what Jackals are to Lions: but none ever did greater 
Justice to the peculiar structure of that artificial animal, the Race- 
courser and to all the mysteries of turf-tactics, though, unfortunate- 
ly for the artist, they depend more on the facsimilist's precision 
than the Painter's spirit. 

It is intelligent criticism, and inevitable, on sublime premises. Also, 
his statements are true up to a point. Stubbs 's lions are to the lions 
of Rubens what Jackals are to Lions. Stubbs meant them to be. The 
style of the animals themselves did depend on the individual before 
him. That was the point (though Fuseli exaggerated). His figures 
when human are seldom more than the attendants of some animal. 
But in spite of Fuseli, man had become an animal again in the 
eighteenth century. Linnaeus had put him back among the animals 
from his own self-esteem; Stubbs was a comparative anatomist, and 
even "comparative" was a qualification soon to disappear. 

To Stubbs, an animal was just the smallest degree more than an 
animal and a shape. For Fuseli, it was an image. Fuseli declared of 
one of Rubens's horses in a lion-hunt that it was "like a beautiful 
virgin. The apparent distress of such a creature must touch every 
one who has any sensibility". 1 Fuseli felt (they are his words) for 
"the colossal joys of the lion". 

But Fuseli's criticism, if it does not do so from his own point of 
view, does go straight to the problem. As distinct from knowledge, 
what imaginative qualities are there in Stubbs's painting? His 
naturalism was not absolute: it was not, of course, the facsimilist's 
precision: that was going too far. Stubbs followed Leonardo: "If 
you would become Proficient, and practice, either with Profit or 
Applause, Study Nature, let her be your Mistress, nor ever let 
anything escape you, but what is authoriz'd by her Precept, or 
Example." 2 If his curiosity was more narrow, taking an eighteenth- 
century form, it was, nevertheless, intense. 

His friend John Hunter set about with stupendous energy to ex- 
plore the structure of all living animals. In August, 1803, Ozias 
Humphry went round to see Stubbs, and found him, on his seventy- 

1 Conversations of James Northcote, R.A., with James Ward. Edited Ernest 
Fletcher, 1901, p. 239. 

1 Leonardo's Treatise of Painting. English translation, 1721, page 138. 

19 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

ninth birthday, engraving the first plates of his last undertaking 
the work he left unfinished, which was to compare the anatomy of 
man, the tiger, the common fowl, and the vegetable world; and 
before he died, in his eighty-second year, one of the last things he 
said was, "I had indeed hoped to have finished my Comparative 
Anatomy ere I went." Though, like Hunter, he seems simply to 
have been interested in life, in the variety of its shapes, is there not 
something of the passion and superhumanity of Leonardo in this busi- 
ness of an old man beginning, near his death, to summarize and 
extend sixty years' work of prying and seeing? It is true that know- 
ledge of anatomy helps a mediocre artist just about as much as he 
would be helped by a knowledge of the stars. Reynolds used to go to 
sleep during anatomy lectures at the Academy, and no delving in the 
interior of donkeys turned Haydon into a lion of vision and draughts- 
manship. Eighteenth-century art was not much improved by the 
enthusiasm for anatomy in which Stubbs was a pioneer. But in the 
work of Stubbs, at least, anatomy helped to produce some of the 
liveliest drawings in English art; and Stubbs's naturalism is a positive 
as well as a comparative merit. The formula by Reynolds that "the 
whole beauty and the grandeur of the Art consists in being able to 
get above all singular forms, local customs, particularities and details 
of every kind", led artists less passionate and patient than Stubbs to 
attempt the whole beauty and the grandeur by a short cut. They 
went straight for the end and did not trouble to discover first "what 
is deformed in nature, or, in other words, what is particular and 
uncommon". Better the right beginnings, and no more, by way of 
the study of nature, than the false endings which infest and deaden so 
many pretentious canvases between 1760 and 1830. And Stubbs's 
work does not end at this right beginning. I said that conclusions 
about Stubbs were impossible with so much of his painting still to 
be examined; but there is evidence enough for a few conjectures and 
a few statements. Stubbs was an artist who seems to have developed 
slowly and uniformly; and some of his strongest work was done round 
about his eightieth year witness the power and certainty of the en- 
gravings of the skeletons of the tiger and the fowl, and of the fowl 
divested of feathers, in the Comparative Anatomy. In this slow and 
patient development, Stubbs made 'himself able to catch shape and 
substance with a quick, certain effortless line. I think it is sure that 
every detail, and every separate figure and every object in his pic- 
tures, is derived from a previous study, or studies. In fact, in his: 
pictures the parts are true, while the whole is often less felt than put 
together. What has not been imagined often enough is the 

20 



GEORGE STUBBS, 1724-1806 

picture as a design. The pattern from Claude, a tall mass on the 
right or on the left, and an open canvas on the other side, he repeats 
again and again. In this way his landscape is too often a scene for the 
play of his shapes and figures. But how brilliant and serene this play 
or "contrast" becomes in his best work. "Contrast" is defined in 
Pilkington's Dictionary as "an opposition or difference in the position 
of two or more figures (and their members and parts) contrived to 
make a variety in painting"; and the Dictionary declares that "a well- 
conducted contrast is one of the greatest beauties of painting". It is 
one of the rarest beauties, one might add, in the sentiment-ridden 
painting of English artists in the lifetime of Stubbs, and ever since; 
and Fuseli would have been more acute if he had seen it and praised 
it in Stubbs 's pictures. In most of the known paintings by Stubbs 
there is a central passage of figures and forms in which the contrast 
we should more vaguely say "composition" is subtly managed in a 
most engrossing and satisfying way. The contrast is of shape and 
line and colour. Four of the best examples I know are in The Duke 
of Portland and Lord Edward Bentinck at the Jumping Bar (1767), 
Colonel Pocklington and His Sisters (Tate Gallery), The Phaeton and 
Pair, in the National Gallery, and The Haymakers (1794), in the 
Lever Art Gallery. In this last picture, the "opposition" of the 
scything and forking harvesters and the tools they carry, and the 
pattern of colour, pale blue, pale pinkish greys, pale brown, olive 
green, chestnut, blue flecked with white, is anything at all but 
prosaic. It gives one an exceptional sense of harmony, balance, 
lightness, and delight. That is true also of the Colonel Pocklington. It 
is nonsense to call Stubbs prosaic, when he could draw anything so 
lovely as the passage from the left of this picture to the hand that 
holds so gracefully to the horse's mouth a minute bunch of flowers. 
His strength of "contrast" can be isolated and examined simply in 
the placing of the petals and the succession of colours in that one 
small area of pigment. And compare the "contrast" in the springs 
and wheels and spokes and body of the phaeton in the National 
-Gallery with the "contrast" in the skeletons engraved in the Anatomy 
of the Horse and the Comparative Anatomy. The parts are set against 
each other in the skeletons by the adroitness of the way in which the 
limbs are placed and by the viewpoint of the artist. This rhythm of 
shape against shape is the ennobling element in Stubbs. He cared 
little for sentiment or association unjustified by the substance of con- 
trasted, rhythmical drawing. "It may be deemed extraordinary," 
Stubbs wrote for his Turf Gallery series of portraits of race-horses, 
"to submit a work of so unusual a kind to the public consideration; 

21 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

where the chief merit consists in the actions, and not in the language, 
of the Heroes and Heroines it proposes to record, and with whom, 
possibly, Literature may exclaim, 'She neither desires connection 
nor allows utility.' " The painter's spirit which Fuseli missed in him 
was the illustration of sublime literature, even though Fuseli himself 
had declared the painter's freedom from "tradition or the stores of 
history or poetry". The rare painter's spirit which he had, enabled 
him, like Poussin, to feel himself onto the surface of pictures in 
rhythm. The picturesque was not for such an artist. He could have 
no use for roots tangling like the hair of earth in the banks of a deep 
lane. He could have no use for the "roughness", "sudden variation" 
and "irregularity" demanded by Uvedale Price, which would have 
prevented the distinct and sharp drawing of a curving greyhound or 
of a man leaning on a stick. If Stubbs's animals were each an indivi- 
dual, they were good specimens. He could not have sympathized 
with the emotive, picturesque decrepitude of the cattle painted by 
James Ward; any more than he could have liked the broken colour 
in a landscape by Constable 1 For Stubbs, the rhythm of shapes in 
the paint which satisfied the eighteenth-century conditions of the 
Beautiful. Beauty was smooth. Beauty had variety in its parts. 
Beauty meant the putting on of colours clear and bright, but not very 
strong and glaring. Stubbs belongs to the era of Chardin and the 
smooth tints of his friend Sandby, the era of the more or less "passive 
acceptance of impressions". 

In spite of the fact that several of his pictures do not cohere simply 
because he attempts to stage them beyond his vision, in spite of 
elements from outside himself in arrangement and detail, in spite of a 
few unsuccessful attempts to paint in fashions of the time, in spite of 
his manufacture of horse portraits (which seldom become either 
careless or insignificant), Stubbs is an artist who always organized 
his own abilities with the greatest skill. His engraving in mezzo-tint, 
etching and stipple has a sensitivity and completeness (it fully 
carries out his feeling) which is not very common in the eighteenth 
century, in which engraving is more a process of reproduction by a 
facsimilist than a way of expression. Notice how in his engravings, 2 

1 Compare Sir Uvedale Price's remarks '(derived from Gilpin's Forest Scenery) 
on rough animals as picturesque and smooth animals as beautiful. "The sleek 
pampered steed, with his high arched crest, and flowing mane is frequently repre- 
sented in painting, but his prevailing character whether there, or in reality, is 
that of beauty," whereas the ass was picturesque. Essay on the Picturesque , Part I, 
Chapter III. Ward's cow to Stubbs's horse is the picturesque Gothic ruin to the 
beautiful Greek temple. 

* Well represented in the Print Room of the British Museum. His own en- 
gravings were not confined to the early embryos, and the two Anatomies. 

22 



GEORGE STUBBS, 1724-1806 

as in his drawing and his paintings (e.g. The Lion and the Tiger , on a 
china stone tablet in the Walker Art Gallery at Liverpool), he can 
reproduce the exact quality of a leopard's coat, or the coat of a horse 
or a dog, or the skin of a plucked cockerel. He could fix cool sen- 
suality and knowledge in exquisite, emotive patches of design. He 
could express, under control, a peculiarity of his nature in some of 
the stranger and more disturbing plates of his two Anatomies, and, 
no doubt, in many drawings and studies which are not to be seen. 
His rhythmical drawing is related to a mind wider, keener, higher, 
and more inquisitive than the mind of most artists during his time. 
His work was through, and his vision moves us now because it was, 
at least, uncontaminated, clear, and ordered. 

When he died in 1806, the explorers were down already in the dark 
caves and galleries of the heart. 



23 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

TH I s is less the story of an instrument than of an image. But so 
much has the Harp of Aeolus, the God of the Winds, now 
vanished (unless one sees a prosaic, practical descendant of 
it in the wireless set) that perhaps I must begin by saying what it was: 
the Wind Harp the harp from which the wind extracted the music 
of nature. My own rather late Aeolian Harp is a rectangular box, 
with a dozen strings crossing a bridge at either end, and a lid hooking 
over the strings and admitting the air. It fits into the window. 
If there is wind or draught enough, if the Harp is in a good mood, 
the music it gives out "with all the expressions of the forte, the piano 
and the swell ... is more like to what we might imagine the aerial 
sounds of magic and enchantment to be, than to artificial music". 
And by its aid and more accurately than with the investigations of 
any English or American scholar of romanticism, one can think one- 
self back into the romantic mood. Coleridge, you will remember, 
had an Aeolian Harp in the window at Clevedon before his marriage; 
and there, with the honeysuckle round the cottage, he and Sara 
Fricker, listened to its "long sequaceous notes", and there he wrote 
the poem I must return to, which is the locus classicus of the harp. 
He still had his harp of Aeolus with him in the Lakes, to play, in the 
winds off Skiddaw, the less happy music of his later poem to Sara 
Hutchinson. Charles Lamb noticed the harp lying in his study at 
Greta Hall. 

Who invented it? In fact, that extraordinary, learned Jesuit 
Athanasius Kircher, in the seventeenth century. But possibly, for 
all the purposes of English and European romanticism, it was born of 
a hint from Alexander Pope. One might say the Harp was always in 
the air. More than one writer who deals with it 1 speaks of the Harp 
in the music of Spenser's "Ruines of Time": 

Whilst thus I looked, loe! adoune the Lee 
I saw an Harpe stroong all with silver twyne 
And made of golde and costlie yvorie, 
Swimming, that whylome seemed to have been 
The Harpe on which Dan Orpheus was scene 
Wylde beast and forrests after him to lead, 

1 e.g. William Jones: Physiological Disquisitions, 1781, p. 338. 

24 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

But was th* Harpe of Philyides now dead. 

At length out of the River it was reard 

And borne above the cloudes to be divin'd, 

Whilst all the way most heavenly noyse was heard 

Of the strings, stirred with the warbling wind, 

That wrought both joy and sorrow in my mind . . . 

But Athanasius Kircher brought it out of the air into fact, in that 
century whose better defined mysteries gave so much to the 
expansive infinity of Romanticism. Kircher studied alchemy, 
astrology, horoscopy, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. To consider 
volcanoes, he had himself lowered into the crater of Vesuvius. He 
invented a counting machine, the speaking tube and the magic lantern. 
For the Wind Harp, turn to his MUSURGIA UNIVERSALIS SIVE ARS 
MAGNA CONSONI ET DissoNi, in X Libres digesta, Roma, MDCL, in fact 
to Tomus II, page 352, to Machinamentum X: 

Aliam machinam harmonicam automatam concinnare quae 
nullo rotarum, follium, vel cylindri phonotactici ministerio, sed 
solo vento et acre perpetuum quendam harmoniosum sonum 
excitet. 

He played it in his museum (the museum still there in Rome, in the 
Roman College). The window which allowed air into the room was 
shut, the instrument was silent: he opened the window, and "lo, 
there arose suddenly an harmonious sound by which everyone was 
astonished, not knowing whence the sound came, nor what instru- 
ment it might be". He described it, and pictured it of pine wood, 
five palms long, two wide, one deep, fifteen equal strings of gut, or 
more. 

One must feel, after that, just a bit suspicious about the English 
tale of its re-invention, which is this: The Scottish violin player and 
composer James Oswald was excited by a remark Pope had dis- 
covered in the commentaries of the Byzantine critic Eustathius, when 
he was busy on his translation of Homer, a passage suggesting that 
the wind could produce a harmony on strings. He tried to make such 
an instrument, but it refused to work. Then, hearing that an ordinary 
harp had accidentally sounded in the wind on a Thames houseboat, 
he tried again, succeeded, and produced a harp for the window. 
Whether Oswald knew Pope Pope still had three years to live when 
Oswald came south and settled in London I do not know. The 
notes to the Odyssey, in which Pope quoted again and again from 

B* 25 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Eustathius, do have something about the wind producing music 
among rocks, but that would hardly have been enough. Yet the Harp 
fits in with Pope. It would not be out of keeping that an image and a 
property which were soon to romp and proliferate through Romantic 
literature, an instrument which was soon to express the popular 
sentiment of a new age, should have had at any rate some connection 
with the master of Reason and Uniformity, who nevertheless broke 
the smoothness, who was master of the sparkle and the grotto and 
the natural garden, who fancied planting an old gothic cathedral in 
trees, and cutting a Welsh mountain into a statue of Alexander the 
Great, who declared that Newton " whose rules the rapid Comet 
bind" could not "Describe or fix one moment of his Mind*', that 
"What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone". 

Oswald may indeed have started experiments on the hint of Pope 
and Eustathius; but I have no doubt at all that he came across 
Kircher's description, perhaps after his own efforts had failed, be- 
cause Kircher's harp is obviously the prototype. Oswald, I once 
thought, at least invented the name an act about as important, for 
its coming career, as inventing the harp itself. Kircher had left it as 
Machinamentum X, little guessing its future. The Harp of Aeolus, 
the Harp of the Wind God, was a good name, giving so useful, so 
long, and so sequaceously romantic an adjective for poets down to 
Tennyson to play with, as "Aeolian". But even the name preceded 
Oswald, or at least the association with Aeolus. It looks very much as 
if Oswald, on top of Pope and Eustathius and Kircher, had read of 
the Harp in a once celebrated encyclopaedia, J. J. Hofmann's Lexicon 
Universale Historico-Geographico-Chronologico-Poetico-Philologicum. 
Hofmann, in his seventeenth-century Latin, takes over the Harp from 
Kircher, and calls it "Aeolium instrumentum", and says moreover 
it must be played in a draft of air through a window or a door. 
Which, I think, disposes of Oswald as its inventor; except that he saw 
the possibilities of the Harp, manufactured it, no doubt, and sold it 
in his music shop near St. Martin's Church. But, though there is 
something more to be said of Oswald, it is time to hear the Harp of 
Aeolus sounding for the first time in literature. 



II 

It sounds first in 1748, four years after Pope's death, in James 
Thomson's "pleasing land of drowsy-head", in The Castle of Indol- 
ence: 

26 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Each sound, too, here to languishment inclin'd, 
Lull'd the weak bosom, and induced ease, 
Aerial music in the warbling wind, 
At distance rising oft by small degrees, 
Nearer and nearer came, till o'er the trees 
It hung, and breath'd such soul-dissolving airs, 
As did, alas! with soft perdition please: 
Entangled deep in its enchanting snares, 
The listening heart forgot all duties and all cares. 

A certain music, never known before, 
Here lull'd the pensive melancholy mind; 
Full easily obtain'd. Behoves no more, 
But sidelong, to the gently waving wind, 
To lay the well-tun 'd instrument reclin'd; 
From which, with airy flying fingers light, 
Beyond each mortal touch the most refin'd, 
The god of winds drew sounds of deep delight: 
Whence, with just cause, the harp of Aeolus it hight. 

Ah me! what hand can touch the string so fine? 
Who up the lofty diapason roll 
Such sweet, such sad, such solemn airs divine, 
Then let them down again into the soul? 
Now rising love they fann'd; now pleasing dole 
They breath'd, in tender musings, through the heart; 
And now a graver sacred strain they stole, 
As when seraphic hands an hymn impart, 
Wild- warbling Nature all above the reach of Art! 

Thomson also wrote a dullish "Ode on Aeolus's Harp", and when it 
was published in 1750, two years after his death, a footnote ascribed 
the invention to Oswald. William Collins, in 1749, in his memorial 
ode on Thomson, wrote of placing Thomson's Harp in a Thames 
reed-bed: 

In yon deep bed of whisp'ring reeds 
His airy harp shall now be laid, 
That he whose heart in sorrow bleeds 
May love thro' life the soothing shade. 

Then maids and youths shall linger here, 
And while it's sounds at distance swell, 

Shall sadly seem in Pity's ear 
To hear the woodland pilgrim's knell. 
27 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Remembrance oft shall haunt the shore, 
When Thames in summer wreaths is drest, 

And oft suspend the dashing oar 
To bid his gentle spirit rest! 

Collins, too, felt it necessary to add a footnote, explaining that the 
airy harp was "The Harp of Aeolus, of which see a description in the 
Castle of Indolence" . Quick in taking hold of it, Christopher Smart, 
then thirty and a Fellow of Pembroke Hall, refers to the Harp in his 
Latin poem on the Propagation of Yawning which he published in 
1752. But after Thomson, in Drowsy-head, the other earliest de- 
scriptive use that I know comes, in 1753 from the coarser mind of 
Tobias Smollett, which (see his Ode to Independence) was none the 
less dedicated to Nature. It is in The Adventures of Ferdinand Count 
Fathom. Thomson says "A certain music, never heard before": 
Smollett also begins "Some years ago, a twelve-stringed instrument 
was contrived by a very ingenious musician, by whom it was aptly 
called the harp of Aeolus. . . ." Ferdinand "had brought one of 
these new-fashioned guitars into the country", into a house where 
"the effect of it was still unknown". So clearly, when Thomson and 
Smollett wrote, the harp was not so very far from its English be- 
ginnings. And when one puts two and two together, one suspects a 
Scottish conspiracy over the tale of its invention. Thomson, Smollett, 
Oswald all three were Scots. Oswald composed music for poems 
both by Thomson and Smollett. 1 There was a close Scottish circle 
in London, so it seems obvious that the two writers who first wrote 
of the harp were acquainted with "the very ingenious musician" who 
first launched it. As for when, exactly, the Harp was launched, the 
date must be between 1741 when Oswald came to London and 1748 
when Thomson published The Castle of Indolence', and for some 
years more it seems it was still a toy of the sensations of poets and 
musicians and the artist circles of London and the country mansion 
of young and advanced forerunners of romance such as Gray, the 
musically inclined William Mason, and Christopher Smart. Smart 
also wrote a short poem in English and in Latin, which was noticed 
on an Aeolian Harp in a Norfolk country house in 1754 by a corre- 
spondent to the Gentleman's Magazine: and then the Harp was still 
so unfamiliar at large that, "imagining it not to be thoroughly known", 
the correspondent described it in full, and the way of making it, and 
playing it. 
Just here it will be as well to pause, to think about how, in fact, 

1 British Museum Library, Music Catalogue. 

28 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Smollett and Thomson first used the Harp. It was called The Harp 
of Aeolus, says Smollett, "because being properly applied to a 
stream of air, it produces a wild irregular variety of harmonious 
sounds, that seem to be the effect of enchantment, and wonderfully 
dispose the mind for the most romantic situations'* this most 
romantic situation being Fathom's seduction of the "delicate 
Celinda". There is nothing very profound about either use; but the 
harp's music is the music, the audible, harmonious, yet wild and 
irregular music of nature "wild- warbling Nature all above the 
reach of Art" which recalls Pope again in a piece I have already 
quoted: "There is certainly something in the amiable simplicity of 
unadorned Nature, that spreads over the mind a more noble sort of 
tranquillity, and a loftier sensation of pleasure, than can be raised 
from the nicer scenes of art." It is a pleasant convenient act of self- 
deception. Man, by artifice, if not art, arranges several strings on a 
rectangular pine-wood box, the wind moves the strings; and the 
man-arranged music is not man-made, but made from Nature, is 
Nature's music, made audible. A self-deception, but how useful an 
image, how delightful a toy for the next seventy years! Thomson 
was the New Poet, "The autumn was his favourite season for 
poetical composition, and the deep silence of the night the time 
he commonly chose for such studies." "Although he performed 
on no instrument, he was passionately fond of music, and would 
sometimes listen a full hour at his window to the nightingales 
in Richmond Gardens" 1 and a full hour no doubt to Nature 
warbling and swelling on the harp in his window frame. His Seasons 
are not a philosophic poem on man and nature with here an image, 
there a few lines of description, but "a mere descriptive Eulogy on the 
luxuriances and beauties of Nature". And a new Nature, the 
romantic Nature for the individual soul, "... till o'er the trees it 
hung, and breath 'd such soul-dissolving airs" the Nature for man, 
not the rational Nature for men, whose purpose had been "to make 
men uniform, as children of one common mother". 



in 

As the new nature made way, so the Harp became a universal toy 
in the music shops and the window casements and a repeated image 
in poetry and subject for poems. Lightly used images, for the most 
part, and bad poems; because there was an easy and a less easy pro- 

1 P. Murdoch's Account of his Life and Writings, in Works, 1762. 

29 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

jection of the self into this new nature. It was (and still is, in a motor 
car parked above a fine view) easiness itself to become nature's 
drunkard. The better poet or painter uses the real world, as Goethe 
said of Claude Lorrain, to express the world in his own soul, by 
standing to nature "in a double relation", not letting go of his "well- 
reasoned inspiration". Claude, in his standing to Nature "is both her 
slave and her master; her slave, by the material means which he is 
obliged to employ to make himself understood; her master, because 
he subordinates these material means to a well-reasoned inspiration, 
to which he makes them serve as instruments". The story of the 
Aeolian Harp as an image is one of increasing slavery, increasing 
drunkenness, and unreasoned inspiration; with the grand exceptions 
of Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and perhaps Shelley and De Quincey. 
The simple, drunken projection is clear in Beckford at the age of 
twenty-three, writing thirty-four years after The Castle of Indolence, 
in a letter to the artist Alexander Cozens (whose drawings are an 
Aeolian Harp music in monochrome): "I am calm as a lake sheltered 
by hills at sunset when the winds are still." There are tipsy degrees, 
and different ways of acting under the influence. Beckford became a 
drunk of out and out magnificence. Thomson, Gray were drunks, 
but, still, superior drunks; and Christopher Smart was part drunk, 
part madly sober. As the Harp had spoken to Thomson, so it spoke 
to Christopher Smart of nature above artifice, of a rapturously polite 
intoxication. It is something (An Inscription on an Aeolian Harp) 
"which, tho' untouch'd", can 

. . . rapturous strains impart 
O rich of genuine nature, free from art. 

Moreover Smart curiously discusses the Harp in Jubilate Agno, 
aware, in his madness, of its philosophical shortcomings: 

For the Aeolian harp is improveable into regularity. 
For when it is so improved it will be known to be the shawm. 
For it would be better if-the liturgy were musically performed. 
For the strings of the shawm were upon a cylinder, which 
turned to the wind. 

For this was spiritual musick altogether, as the wind is a spirit. 
The Harp talked of sublimities to Gray: "Did you never observe, 
'while rocking winds are piping loud 1 , that pause, as the gust is 
recollecting itself, and rising upon the air in a shrill and plaintive 
note, like the swell of an Aeolian Harp? I do assure you there is 
nothing in the world so like the voice of a spirit" with which one 
might compare Robert Burns walking, years later, "in the sheltered 

30 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

side of a wood or high plantation, in a cloudy, winter day", hearing 
"a stormy wind howling among the trees and raising o'er the plain", 
than which "scarcely any earthly object" more exalted and enrap- 
tured him. Gray's friend William Mason, musician and poet and 
gardener, manufactured an Aeolian Harp for himself (and also in- 
vented another implement, the Celestina, a variant of the piano). It 
was Mason who wrote his English Garden, not in couplets, but in 
blank verse, which was "as unfettered as Nature itself". 

James Macpherson, again, could not avoid it. Committing an 
archaeological solecism, more to the credit of his forger's heart 
than his forger's head, he incautiously allowed an Aeolian Harp, not 
very well disguised as a harp hanging and sounding in a tree before 
the musician takes hold of it, into Berrathon, and Temora, and Dar 
Thula. "The blast came rustling through the hall, and gently touched 
my harp. The sound was mournful and low, like the song of the 
tomb." And in Ossian, the blast of the breeze is always making 
music, if not out of harps, then out of trees, out of thistles, out of 
grey beards. But the l.c.m. use of the Harp in the little drunkennesses 
of innumerable little poets and innumerable window casements, 
speaks in this stanza, of a forgotten, nameless writer, in which one 
romantic property collects two more, the fairy and the glow-worm, 
expressing nature's "inexpressible somewhat": 

Are ye some fairy, tiny voice 

That by the glow-worm's light 
At lonely hours your vigil keep 

Unmark'd by mortal sight? 

That comes from the harp pamphlet (1808) compiled by Bloomfield, 
the Farmer's Boy, who made Aeolian harps to sell and keep himself 
alive in his London poverty a pamphlet more valuable than his 
poems, and of which one thing most to be remarked is the title, 
Nature's Music. But I am skipping beyond Coleridge and Words- 
worth, who bring me back to Goethe's "well-reasoned inspiration". 

IV 

Coleridge had had his drunkenness. He had read Giordano Bruno, 
had been "intoxicated with the vernal fragrance and effluvia from the 
flowers and first-fruits of Pantheism, unaware of its bitter root" a 
statement which bears on his two great Aeolian Harp poems, the 
Clevedon poem, The Eolian Harp, written in 1795, and Dejection, 
written in the cold April of 1802, at Greta Hall, two poems with a 

31 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

world of suffering and experience in between. The pertinent use by 
Wordsworth comes out of The Excursion. He was young: 

It was a splendid evening, and my soul 

Once more made trial of her strength, nor lacked 

Aeolian visitations; but the harp 

Was soon defrauded, and the banded host 

Of harmony dispersed in struggling sounds, 

And lastly utter silence! 

Wordsworth (it will be enough to stop here so far as he is concerned) 
was the Aeolian Harp. So was Coleridge, though the Harp plays in 
the window in both of his poems. For a few moments in its existence 
the Harp has ceased to be a drunkard's toy, and becomes dignified 
into an image by which the deepest relations in the dualism of man 
and nature can be explored. 

He was twenty-two when he wrote The Eolian Harp, feeling sure 
of his powers, of the goodness of life, and of his emotions, for then at 
least, he was in love, or believed himself in love, with Sara Fricker, 
with whom he sat listening, her head on his arm, to the rise and fall 
of the harp outside the cottage they were to live in, after their mar- 
riage, nine weeks ahead. He was full of "philosophy-dreamers, from 
Theuth the Egyptian to Taylor the English pagan", of "meta- 
physics and poetry and 'facts of the mind'," in the vernal fragrance 
and effluvia of his age. It was evening, in August. Jasmine and 
myrtle grew close around the cottage. "How exquisite the scents" 
(a little odd for August 20th, like Samuel Palmer's concatenation of 
horse chestnuts in flower and the ripest golden corn in A Hilly 
Scene) "snatch'd from yon beanfield"! The evening star was out, 
"serenely brilliant" that star, of which he afterwards wrote (See 
AnimaPoetae) "O it was my earliest affection", to which he gave one 
of his earliest poems, seeing it, returning from the New River, "newly 
bathed as well as I". The substance of the poem was "that the 
woman whom I could ever love would surely have been emblemed 
in the pensive" ("My pensive Sara" he begins the Eolian Harp) 
"the pensive serene brightness of that planet, that we were both con- 
stellated to it, and would after death return thither". The evening 
was quiet, and the quietness enlarged by the murmur, far off, of 
the smooth, peculiar sea of the Bristol Channel: 

And that simplest lute, 

Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark! 
How by the desultory breeze caressed, 
Like some coy maid half-yielding to her lover 

32 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Like Sara in fact, still not his wife 

It pours such sweet upraiding, as must needs 
Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now, its strings 
Boldlier swept, the long sequaceous notes 
Over delicious surges sink and rise, 
Such a soft floating witchery of sound 

And here comes a piece of the l.c.m. of Aeolian harping, saved by 
Coleridge's genius 

As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve 
Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-land, 
Where melodies round honey-dropping flowers, 
Footless and wild, like Birds of Paradise, 
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untamed wing! 

Now, Coleridge becoming Coleridge: 

O! the one life within us and abroad, 
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul, 
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light, 
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance every where 
Methinks it should have been impossible 
Not to love all things in a world so filled; 
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air 
Is Music slumbering on her instrument. 

And thus, my love! as on the midway slope 
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon, 
Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold 
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds on the main, 
And tranquil muse upon tranquillity; 
Full many a thought uncalled and undetained, 
And many idle flitting phantasies, 
Traverse my indolent and passive brain, 
As wild and various as the random gales 
That swell and flutter on this subject lute! 

And what if all of animated nature 
Be but organic harps diversely framed, 
That tremble into thought, as o*er them sweeps 
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze. 
At once the Soul of each, and God of alU 
33 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

I need not add the conclusion, the reproof from Sara's eyes at such 
"dim and unhallowed" thoughts, such 

Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break 
On vain Philosophy's aye-babbling spring, 

the concluding submission to the God 

Who with his saving mercies healed me, 
A sinful and most miserable man, 
Wildered and dark, and gave me to possess 
Peace, and this cot, and 

unmarried, still untested, and unexplored, her "fretfulness" still 
unknown 

and thee, dear honoured maid! 

No wonder Coleridge loved this vernal poem of his twenty-third 
year "the most perfect poem I ever wrote"; the poem of the best 
and happiest equipoise of his powers, of himself and nature. But the 
poem had an ancestor, direct that early sonnet To the Evening Star. 
There, first, is the wedding sense, the star which there, too, he had 
called "serenely brilliant"; and above all there, first, is the "joyance", 
of The Eolian Harp, in the "pure joy" which the star inspires, the 
joy and calm delight, which Coleridge held to be the source of good 
and genuine composition: 

O meek attendant of Sol's setting blaze, 
I hail, sweet star, thy chaste effulgent glow; 

On thee full oft with fixed eye I gaze 
Till I, methinks, all spirit seems to grow. 

O first and fairest of the starry choir, 

O loveliest 'mid the daughters of the night, 

Must not the maid I love like thee inspire 
Purely and calm delight? 

Must she not be, as in thy placid sphere 
Serenely brilliant? Whilst to gaze a while 

Be all my wish 'mid Fancy's light career 
E'en till she quit this scene of earthly toil; 

Then Hope perhance might fondly sigh to join 

Her spirit in thy kindred orb, O star benign! 

Here, in fact, in this sonnet, Coleridge's deepest insights begin, 
actually and verbally, when he was eighteen and still at school. The 

34 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Eolian Harp grows out of the Evening Star poem, adding the new 
image, the new depth; and Dejection grows out of them both. 

One cannot read and compare The Eolian Harp and Dejection 
without remembering Dr. I. A. Richards on their depths and on their 
implication with Coleridge's most central feeling and thinking. He 
shows, in his book Coleridge on Imagination, that, however troubled 
Coleridge may have been about the vernal, intoxicating pantheism 
of the organic harps under one intellectual breeze, he still twines into 
one the realist and the projective attitudes to nature; that the simpler 
Wordsworth sticks more to pantheism and his "life of things" (in 
support of which he might have pointed to that "splendid evening" 
which in his youth had brought those Aeolian visitations onto his 
soul). But since my concern is less with Coleridge than with Aeolian 
Harps, I may as well go on at once to the tragic emotional contrast of 
the third and the two early poems. 

It was the same harp, no doubt, that had been played in the vernal 
summer of Clifton, the harp which Lamb saw in the study at 
Greta Hall. It was spring, 4th April, 1802, a "sweet Primrose- 
month" outwardly; a cold, unvernal unvegetative spring in a heart 
dead or dying. It was again evening, or rather night with a crescent 
moon, a night which was tranquil, but with promise, in the text from 
The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence, of a deadly storm. A light breeze 
only played on the harp in the window, intermittently, but it was 

. . . dull sobbing draft, that drones and rakes 
Upon the Strings of this Eolian Lute 
Which better far were mute 

The new moon, "rimmed and circled with a silver Thread", fore- 
telling rain and squally blast, shone down "winter-bright" into the 
study (instead of that hopeful and "serenely bright" evening star of 
Clevedon and the New River sonnet); and there, in the room, 
Coleridge, with no cheek of someone he was soon to marry on his 
arm, was alone; dejected after ill-health, growing disharmony with 
Sara (cf. "the gloom and distresses of those around me for whom I 
ought to be labouring and cannot": also the still earlier "Memoran- 
dum: not to adulterize my time by absenting myself from my wife" 
an aide-memoire for the conduct of all authors); after opium, after the 
severest intellectual questings and discoveries. Above all, he was in 
love, in hopeless love with Sara Hutchinson (whose sister married 
Wordsworth). In November 1799, he had recorded in Latin, in his 
note book how he had held Sara Hutchinson 's hand, and how the 
poisoned and incurable arrow of love had driven into him. And that 

35 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

night, it was in the form of a letter to Sara, as he walked about, that 
he composed Dejection. He wished for the quick coming of the 
storm's energy 

O! Sara! that the Gust ev'n now were swelling 
And the slant Night-shower driving loud and fast 

Because, as he added in the later published version 

Those sounds which oft have rais'd me, whilst they awed, 

And sent my soul abroad, 

Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give, 

Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live! 

Might, and perhaps\ but forgetting the harp and the wind and the 
coming storm, he moved into the terrible lines of the hopelessness 
and tenderness and absoluteness of his love which could have no full- 
ness, into the cries of the deadness of his heart, the contrast of 1802 
with the hope and the star of 1790, the love of 1795. 

And those thin Clouds above, in flakes and bars, 

That give away their Motion to the Stars; 

Those Stars, that glide behind them, or between, 

Now sparkling, now bedimm'd, but always seen; 

Yon crescent Moon, as fix'd as if it grew 

In it's own cloudless, starless Lake of Blue 

A boat becalm'd! dear William's Sky Canoe! 

I see them all, so excellently fair! 

I see, not feel, how beautiful they are. 

My genial Spirits fail 

And what can these avail 

To lift the smoth'ring Weight from off my Breast? 

It were a vain Endeavor, 

Tho* I should gaze for ever 

On that Green Light that lingers in the West! 

I may not hope from outward Forms to win 

The Passion and the Life whose Fountains are within! 

Then, as he first wrote the poem down, he comes back to the evening 
star, and the first sonnet. He thinks of the new Sara, looking, as he 
is then looking out of the room, on to the same heaven. The first 
Sara had looked with him at Celvedon on the evening star, the imagin- 
ary woman of his schooldays had looked on it: 

36 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

In my first Dawn of Youth that Fancy stole 

With many secret Yearnings on my Soul. 

At eve, sky-gazing in "ecstatic fit" 

(Alas! for cloister 'd in a city School 

The Sky was all I knew of Beautiful) 

At the barr'd window often did I sit, 

And oft upon the leaded School-roof lay, 

And to myself would say 

There does not live the Man so stripped of good affections 

As not to love to see a Maiden's quiet Eyes 

Upraised, and linking on sweet Dreams by dim Connections 

To Moon, or Evening Star, or glorious western Skies 

While yet a Boy, this thought would so pursue me, 

That often it became a kind of Vision to mel 

In the poem as we knew it, and as Dr. Richards knew it when he 
wrote on Coleridge, before Ernest de Selincourt published the 
original version, 1 Coleridge made the completer restatement of 
his doctrine of man's creative interchange with nature, "the am- 
biguity (or rather completeness)", as Dr. Richards declares, "in 
Coleridge's thought", before the Harp broke again into the poem. 
Dejection gained dramatically in that way, as he finally stated the 
doctrine in the black recognition of his own loss of that creative 
power. But he struck out something like a hundred lines of examina- 
tion of his love for Sara Hutchinson, ending: 

But O! to mourn for thee, and to forsake 
All power, all hope, of giving comfort to thee 
To know that thou art weak and worn with pain, 
And not to hear thee, Sara! not to view thee 

Not sit beside thy Bed, 

Not press thy aching Head, 

Not bring thee Health again 

At least to hope, to try 

By this Voice, which thou lov'st, and by this earnest Eye 
Nay, wherefore did I let it haunt my Mind 
The dark distressful Dream! 
I turn from it 

And the Aeolian Harp breaks in again 

I turn from it, and listen to the Wind 
Which long has rav'd unnoticed! What a Scream 
1 In Essays and Studies, English Association, XXII, 1937, 

37 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Of agony, by Torture lengthened out 
That Lute sent forth! O thou wild Storm without! 
Jagg'd Rock, or mountain Pond, or blasted Tree, 
Or Pine-Grove, whither Woodman never clomb 
Or lonely House, long held the Witches' Home, 
Methinks were fitter Instruments for Thee, 
Mad Lutanist! 

After the Harp, in calmness, comes the familiar, terrible statement, 
and as he restates it and elaborates it, so his use of words, words of 
marriage against death, remind him, and remind us, of that equipoise 
which preceded his own wedding six years before, which had been 
both the wedding with Miss Fricker and that wedding with nature, 
foretold still earlier in the sonnet. He brings back hope and the 
Clevedon cottage, with its jasmine, window-peeping rose, and 
"myrtles fearless of the mild sea air", and the Joy: 

Yes, dearest Sara, yes! 

There was a time when tho* my path was rough, 

The Joy within me dallied with Distress; 

And all Misfortunes were but as the Stuff 

Whence Fancy made me Dreams of Happiness; 

For Hope grew round one, like the climbing vine, 

And Leaves and Fruitage, not my own, seem'd mine. 

But now now at last the apex of the tragedy of his life: 

But now 111 Tidings bow me down to Earth, 
Nor care I that they rob me of my Mirth 
But Oh! each Visitation 
Suspends what nature gave me at my Birth, 
My shaping spirit of Imagination! 

Sara Hutchinson, "a Heart within my Heart" not the discordant 
conjunction with Sara Fricker, is the first cause; and Sara Hutchinson 
is the explanation of the doubly difficult seeming lines, kept in the 
final ode, on nature and the natural man, for the natural man is this 
love for her: 

For not to think of what I needs must feel 
But to be still and patient all I can; 
And haply by abstruse Research to steal 
From my own Nature, all the Natural man 
This was my sole Resource, my wisest plan! 
And that, which suits a part, infects the whole 
And now is almost grown the Temper of my Soul. 

38 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Finally comes the Wedding, the Shroud, nature and joy the re- 
statement of that centrality of Coleridge's life as a poet, so elaborated 
since his childhood's intimation of it before the Evening Star: 

O Sara! we receive but what we give, 

And in our life alone does Nature live 

Our's is her Wedding Garment, our's her Shroud 

And would we aught behold of higher Worth 

Than that inanimate cold World allow'd 

To the poor loveless ever anxious Crowd, 

Ah! from the Soul itself must issue forth 

A Light, a Glory, and a luminous Cloud 

Enveloping the Earth! 

The "pure joy" of the sonnet actually inspired by the star, and to be 
inspired by woman, and the "joyance" celebrated in TheEolian Harp, 
open out from this line onward in the full explication of Joy: 

And from the Soul itself must there be sent 

A sweet and potent Voice, of it's own Birth 

Of all sweet Sounds, the Life and Element. 

O pure of Heart! thou need'st not ask of me 

What this strong music in the Soul may be, 

What and wherein it doth exist, 

This Light, this Glory, this fair luminous Mist, 

This beautiful and beauty-making Power! 

Joy, innocent Sara! Joy, that ne'er was given 

Save to the pure, and in their purest Hour 

Joy, Sara! is the Spirit and the Power 

That wedding Nature to us gives in Dower 

A new Earth and new Heaven, 

Undreamt of by the Sensual and the Proud! 

Joy is that strong Voice, Joy that luminous Cloud 

We, we ourselves rejoice! 

And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight, 

All melodies, the Echoes of that Voice, 

All Colors a Suffusion of that Light 

Here again reappear the actual words used before, the soul, the 
sound, the light, the power. Here again is the wedding sense. Here 
again in the "luminous Cloud enveloping the Earth" Coleridge 
repeats from the Clevedon poem, the clouds that late were rich with 
light\ and, back beyond this middle poem, the actual verbal source of 
Joy as the spirit and the power given only to the pure at their purest, 

39 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

may be found in the sonnet: I gaze, he had written in the sonnet, on 
the Evening Star, on the planet of love 

Till I, methinks, all spirit seem to grow. 

One thing which Coleridge does add is the Glory, no generalized 
superlative, but another image of projection the halo one sees, in 
the rainbow colours, round the head part of one's shadow when it is 
projected by a rising or setting sun down on to mist. Coleridge used 
it again of Sara Hutchinson in absence and unattainment as the image 
with a Glory round its head which the woodman sees at dawn 

The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues, 
Nor knows he makes the shadow, he pursues. 

Using the Glory in Dejection only adds to the statement of his attitude 
to nature. The actual links between the sonnet, TheEolian Harp and 
Dejection are so close, as I say, that one cannot separate the three 
poems. Coleridge was no intermittent, occasional poet but one who 
wrote in a developing, ordered network of images. And the second 
and third poems are indissolubly bound by the Aeolian Harp in the 
window, and by the difference between its two utterances 

. . . what a Scream 
Of agony, by Torture lengthened out 
That Lute sent forth! 

So the mad lutanist of the wind, succeeding that "intellectual breeze 
at once the Soul of each and God of all", the wind which would have 
done better to choose a jagged rock, or mountain pond, or blasted 
tree for instrument, talked only through the harp, on that midnight 
of April 4th, of the groans of the wounded in defeat, and then as it 
dropped, of a lost child in some tender poem by Wordsworth. 
Coleridge's dead heart. His soul that could not receive because it 
could not project. The blasted tree or Pine Grove: "The Pine Tree 
blasted at the top," he wrote in his note-book, "was applied by Swift 
to himself as a prophetic emblem of his own decay. The Chestnut is a 
fine shady tree, and its wood excellent, were it not that it dies away 
at the heart first. Alas! poor me!" 1 

1 Six years afterwards, in May 1808, Coleridge wrote down a note on the caged 
singing bird he heard from his bedroom at the Courier office: "It is in prison, all its 
instincts ungratified, yet" (unlike Coleridge, also in prison, also with his instincts 
ungratified) "it feels the influence of spring and calls with unceasing melody to the 
Loves that dwell in field and greenwood bowers, unconscious, perhaps, that it calls 
in vain. O are the songs of a happy, enduring day-dream? Has the bird hope? or does it 
abandon itself to the joy of its frame, a living harp of Eolus? O that it could do sol 

Aeolian Harps, the evening star, and joy were also ingredients of his poem The 
Nightingale (1798). 

40 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 



Never before, and never since has the Harp sounded so sweetly, 
so screamingly, or to such purpose. Scott and Tom Moore used it 
prettily. Shelley strung it with some grandeur in Prometheus 
Unbound 

lone: , . . What is that awful sound 

Panthea: 'Tis the deep music of the rolling world 
Kindling within the strings of the waved air, 
Aeolian modulations. 

and, in a cancelled scrap forEpipsychidion,vfith an advance towards 
Coleridge's depth, derived, I should say from Coleridge: 

There is a Power, a Love, a Joy, a God 
Which makes in mortal hearts its brief abode, 
A Pythian exhalation, which inspires 
Love, only love a wind which o'er the wires 
Of the soul's giant harp . . . 

In an occasional way, but grandly so, with a great pathos, De 
Quincey employs the Harp as he recalls how he stood on a summer 
evening, during childhood, by his sister's corpse: ". . . whilst I stood 
a solemn wind began to blow the saddest that ear ever heard. It 
was a wind that might have swept the fields of mortality for a thou- 
sand centuries. Many times since, upon summer days, when the sun 
is about the hottest, I have remarked the same wind arising and 
uttering the same hollow, Memnonian, but saintly swell: it is in this 
world the one great audible symbol of eternity. And three times in 
my life have I happened to hear the same sound in the same circum- 
stances viz., when standing between an open window and a dead 
body on a summer day. 

Instantly, when my ear caught this vast Aeolian intonation, when 
my eye filled with the golden fullness of life, the pomps of the heavens 
above, or the glory of the flowers below, instantly a trance fell upon 
me. . . ." 

This is one out of many examples of the marriage of the harp to 
Memnon the colossal Egyptian statue which, at sunrise, gave a 
sound like a breaking string in greeting to his mother Eos, the dawn 
(or used to do so until Memnon was repaired under Septimus 

41 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Severus). Christopher Smart had married the two of them: first in 
his poem on Yawning, in 1752, then in his Inscription: 

Hail, heav'nly harp, whose Memnon's skill is shewn 
That charm'st the ear with musick all thine own! 

And Wordsworth did the same in his poem about the waterfall and 
the pleasure-ground on the Banks of the Bran. 

The Harp was indeed exported, an English born element in 
Romanticism, to Russia (where the poet Zhukorvsky wrote an 
Ossianic poem upon "Aeolus's Harp"), to Germany, to France, to 
America. F. H. von Dahlberg, director of the theatre at Mannheim, 
where Schiller's Die Ratiber was first played, wrote (1801) a pretty 
little book Die Aeolsharfe. Ein Allegorischen Traum illustrating an 
eight-stringed harp, and saying the harp is still so little known in 
Germany "that he needs first to describe it"; he tells German readers 
where they can buy Aeolian Harps in London. Also being a good 
German adapter, he wants to improve the harp. "Till now," he says, 
"the Aeolian Harp has been used simply in rooms, especially of 
country houses and summer houses; but I believe it could be much 
better employed. Often accompanied by this instrument in my 
lonely wanderings this summer, I discovered that in open fields, or 
on eminences, where there are stronger currents of winds, it played 
not only more briskly, but also more strongly and with a fuller tone. 
So one could use it in gardens, in sequestered arbours, in dark 
coverts and groves, on hills and on heights, if one used for it air or 
wind pipes specially devised so as to direct the stream of air on to the 
instrument, giving it the required direction. These pipes would be 
easy to put up in open summer houses; and they must, especially if 
one were to fit larger harps with strongs of a deeper bass, or several 
of varying strength tuned in harmony and octaves, produced the 
most astonishing result." 

But Jean Paul, as an admirer of England, knew about the Harp long 
before von Dahlberg wrote his book; so did Schiller, who has an 
Aeolian metaphor in his poem Burde der Frauen. In Jean Paul's 
Hesperus which he wrote in the year of Coleridge's Eolian Harp, 
Sebastian Horion, son of the English peer Lord Horion (no "z" has 
dropped out), goes to meet Dahore, an Indian sage, who lives only 
on fruit and water, at Marienthal, where he teaches astronomy to 
girls: 

"He stood at last under the birch trees; and the music (like that of 
an harmonica) which had first flown over Paradise upon Paradise and 
through hedges of flowers was now loud around him, but Sebastian 

42 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

saw nothing but a high grassy altar and a deep grassy seat. 'From 
what invisible hand/ he thought shudderingly, 'do these sounds 
come, which seem to slide from angels when they are flying over the 
next world, or from mingling souls when so great a bliss breathes out 
into a sigh, and -the sigh dissipates itself into a distant, dying 
sound?* 

The unrecognized melody . . . came from an Aeolian Harp placed 
on a weeping birch. And whenever Dahore came here at night, he 
mingled those breathed out sounds in among the whispering leaves, 
like blossoms, to exalt himself when he looked up at the sublime 
night." 

A case, no doubt, of Coleridge's "nimiety", which coinage would 
also apply to Edgar Allan Poe's catalogue in which the Harp is 
mentioned as one of his sources of "Supernal Beauty". But at least 
in Jean Paul, the Harp is still a Harp (though one doubts, from that 
harmonica and the birch-tree if he had heard one when he wrote 
Hesperus)\ and it was still a Harp when it penetrated (later, it seems) 
into France. At first, if the French view is typified by those Paris 
critics who, in 1824, disparaged Constable's pictures as meaningless 
noises from a Wind Harp, the French merely dismissed it as a toy. 
But Berlioz, as one would expect, drank in its music, writing in 1844 
in his Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italic "On one of those som- 
bre days, which sadden the close of the year, read Ossian and listen 
to the fantastic harmony of an Aeolian Harp hung at the top of a tree 
stripped of its leaves, and I defy you not to experience a deep feeling 
of sadness, of surrender, a vague and boundless yearning for another 
existence, an immense loathing for this one, in a word, a sharp attack 
of spleen linked to a temptation toward suicide." Nimiety not con- 
fined to the Germans; and it extended beyond Berlioz to his friend, 
the musician Jean George Kastner. Kastner had a special wind harp 
in a small tower high in his garden at Versailles, and I commend his 
book-cum-music, La Harpe cTEole et la Musique Cosmique : Etudes sur les 
rapports des phenomenes sonores de la nature avec la science et Vart, suivies 
de Stephen, ou la Harpe d'Eole, grand monologue lyrique avec choeurs 
for there you will find, at last, all nature's resonant phenomena, the 
musical drops of Fingal's Cave, the music of the spheres, the dawn- 
notes of Memnon, David's Harp in the Talmud, the Filaobaume of 
the Isle of Bourbon, and the Harp of Kircher and Oswald. 

This trip abroad might be extended no doubt elsewhere, beyond 
France and Germany and a glance at Russia and America (where 
Thoreau wrote a poem Rumors from An Aeolian Harp, and where his 
friend Emerson published a long Harp passage in 1867, and in 1876 

43 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

A Maiden Speech of the Aeolian Harp, in which the new harp asks its 
owners for the wind and the window; and where the Harp again 
produced what I suppose to be one of the last of its own poems, 
through Herman Melville, as far on as 1888); but I must wind the 
affair back once more into the country of its exploitation, if not of its 
birth. 

After Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, and de Quincey? With 
Coleridge, as I have said of Berlioz, and Kastner and Jean Paul, the 
Harp was still a Harp, an oblong, pinewood box, with strings, in the 
window of the study and the wind howling off Skiddaw; in the 
poem, in, and indeed of, the soul. Then rapidly it became a 
couple of words, a single word, a long harmonious adjective, an 
ornament of fancy, a poetical finery. Not even in fact Nature's 
Music, worth a poem upon its own. It was wearing out. In its day, 
however it began, however it fared through the eighteenth century 
with many little nature-drunken poets, it had indeed performed as 
the music of Paradise, of religion rather than fairyland, in Smart, 
Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Shelley. As the earth and all that 
therein is were for Jakob Boehme (who helped Coleridge, not alone 
among English romantics, to "keep alive the heart in the head" and 
skirt "the sandy deserts of utter unbelief") the pattern of the per- 
fections of Paradise, so I suspect, Aeolian-harp-music was in some 
sense the pattern of the perfect music of eternity at one time, any- 
way. But Nature lost its share of divinity quickly enough (except 
in a few rarities out of their time), and became an object just of 
earthly "worship"; and even worship gave way to transcription of 
detail, to picking nature's pocket, to borrow a condemnation from 
Coleridge; to the moral "truth to nature", the accuracy of the 
Preraphaelites, and of Tennyson burrowing his little, individual eye 
into the colours, inside a chestnut-flower, for a comparison. Mystery 
too became of the earth, or more accurately, became an orchid of 
flamboyance, without roots, hanging in the air of a not very salubrious 
forest of nonsense. It is not difficult to make a choice between the 
humming-birds and lion's eyeballs of Smart, and the orchidaceous 
miasma of Rossetti. But, in any case, high intellect is not conspicuous 
in Romanticism, except in the few, in Coleridge, as in Goethe, in 
Wordsworth, in Shelley (and least of all was it conspicuous in English 
painting). Remove the divinity: not much is left except simplicity, 
or the simple silly mystery of the orchids and the smell. Yet the 
Aeolian Harp took some time to die here in England. After Coler- 
idge, it was an occasional frippery for Clare, and for Keats, who liked, 
and stuck to the long adjective 

44 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

sounds Aeolian 

Breathed from the hinges, as the ample span 
Of the wide doors disclosed a place unknown 
Some time to any but those two alone 

which might have been a trick of Beckford's in the doorways of 
Fonthill. Sounds Aeolian are shreds of prettiness in Barley's poems, 
and in Tennyson; Allingham indeed v/rote actual poems about the 
Harp so late and out of date as 1854, but only because he had come 
tardily into life with the mud on his shoes of the outer darkness of 
Donegal; by then the Harp, as one might expect, tells him only of 

Youth, and prime, and life, and time 
For ever, ever fled away! 

But one could still buy an Aeolian Harp easily enough in the 'sixties 
from twelve and six upwards according to wood and workmanship. 
So far as I know the Harp of Aeolus makes its last major appearance, 
as it first appeared, with a Scot, fulfilling a function something bet- 
tween the seduction of Celinda and the self-enchantment of Dahore. 
The Scot is R. L. Stevenson in The Beach ofFalesd: the trader on the 
South Sea island finds the mumbo-jumbo temple which the Beach- 
comber uses to bewitch and intimidate the islanders. "Well, I had 
got to a place where there was an underwood of what they call wild 
coco-nut mighty pretty with its scarlet fruit when there came a 
sound of singing in the wind that I thought I had never heard the 
like of. It was all very fine to tell myself it was the branches; I knew 
better. It was all very fine to tell myself it was a bird; I knew never a 
bird that sang like that. It rose and swelled, and died away and 
swelled again; and now I thought it was like someone weeping only 
prettier; and now I thought it was like harps; and there was one thing 
I made sure of, it was a sight too sweet to be wholesome in a place 
like that." He found it was a square thing in a tree "and the idea 
of a square thing that was alive and sang knocked me sick and silly." 
He tried praying. "As soon as I had made an end in proper style, I 
laid down my gun, walked right up to that tree, and began to climb. 
I tell you my heart was like ice. But presently, as I went up, I caught 
another glimpse of the thing, and that relieved me, for I thought it 
seemed like a box; and when I had got right up to it I near fell out 
of the tree with laughing. A box it was, sure enough, and a candle 
box at that, with the brand upon the side of it; and it had banjo 
Brings atretched so as to sound when the wind blew. I believe they 

45 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

call the thing a Tyrolean harp, whatever that may mean" (footnote: 

"Aeolian"). 

That was the end the mumbo-jumbo temple went up with 
dynamite and smoke and within ten years (The Beach ofFalesd was 
published in 1892) a correspondent had to write to "Notes and 
Queries" to find out about the Harp and its story. 

It was the end of Machinamentum X and Eustathius on Homer. 
Except, after all, that the Harp of Aeolus is an agreeable toy a toy 
that fascinates even the neutral mind; that the pretty adjective 
Aeolian still crops up now and again like an unpredicted mushroom 
on the lawn; that it might be just as well to add a Harp to the 
English department of every university. 

(I must add this note on playing Aeolian Harps: If you can get one 
it took me three years to acquire a late specimen made in the 'sixties or 
'seventies tune the strings in unison, as nearly as you can; but tune them 
on the slack side. Choose a window the wind is blowing against. It does 
not matter whether it is a window opening up or down or outwards, the 
harp will work reclining or on end, as long as you shut the window onto it. 
You will find that the music in the house has an effect I ought to have com- 
mented on, of making one's ear sensitive to the music of sounds around the 
house and out-of-doors aeroplane, motor-bicycle, etc. The Aeolian 
music of telegraph wires near the pole is more or less constant: the joy of 
Aeolian Harp music is variety, rise and fall, swell and diminuendo.) 



46 



THE VISION OF THE ENGLISH 
ROMANTICS 

How did English romantic artists see? What did they see, most 
of them, in that run of English romantic art, from 1780 
roughly to 1840? They saw nature and themselves. "The 
real," wrote Henry James, and it will serve, "represents to my per- 
ception the things we cannot possibly not know, sooner or later, in 
one way or another. . . . The romantic stands, on the other hand, for 
the things that, with all the facilities in the world, all the wealth and 
all the courage and all the wit and all the adventure, we never can 
directly know; the things that can reach us only through the beautiful 
circuit and subterfuge of our thought and our desire." Themselves, 
in the romantic vision, may be the self in search of God. More often 
it equals the unknowable, the thought and the desire, the yearning, 
the undefined feeling personal to the artist, which he must try to 
define. Through nature. Nature disturbed, nature with black clouds, 
nature in April; nature still and calm, in autumn; nature in its utmost 
violence; nature learned off as a language. 

When the artist P. F. Poole wrote to Richard Redgrave in 1844 
about his picture The Seamstress, English romantic art had nearly let 
go: "Who can help exclaiming Toor Soul! God help her?' If any 
circumstances could make me wage war against the present social 
arrangements, and make us go down shirtless to our graves, it is the 
contemplation of this truthful and wonderful picture." 1 Here is the 
artist moving away from nature and himself, not always a very 
edifying combination, into the triumphant but no more edifying rule 
of "truthfulness", of accuracy, charity, and morals. Yet Turner, 
caves, and the action of mighty forces were the things Poole had 
liked. He had grown up a romantic. "I should like to be buried," he 
had written, "in a coffin with a glass lid, and placed on the top of a 
high mountain, so that I could see the beautiful moon for ever." 2 

And romantic art had waxed a good many years, when in 1801, in 
his third Academy lecture, Fuseli had asked the question "Whether 
it be within the artist's province or not, to find or to combine a 
subject from himself, without having recourse to tradition or the 

1 Richard Redgrave: A Memoir, by F. M. Redgrave, p. 45. 

2 Richard Garnett, A Hampstead Painter : The late Paul Falconer Poole, R.A., in 
the Hampstead Annual, 1900. 

47 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

stores of history or poetry?" He had answered " Why not, if the sub- 
ject be within the limits of art and the combinations of nature; 
though it should have escaped observation? Shall the immediate 
avenues of the mind, open to all its observers, from the poet to the 
novelist, be shut only to the artist? Shall he be reduced to receive as 
alms from them what he has a right to share as common property?" 
That, after the burial, was a pioneer of European romanticism, born 
nine years before Goethe, setting up an English stone upon the grave 
of Ut pictura poesis. Long before Fuseli had come to this point of 
delivering revolution (a then accepted revolution) to the students of 
the Academy, William Hooper, in 1776, in the year of Constable's 
birth, had performed one of the useful preliminaries; he had trans- 
lated a book which Constable, in twenty years' time was to be 
reading with pleasure, agreement and profit the Letter on Landscape 
Painting, by Fuseli's godfather, Solomon Gessner. "I abandoned 
my originals, I left my guides, and delivered myself up to my own 
ideas." Those "first emotions, so important to be seized". Learn 
"to compare the most beautiful expressions of art with nature itself 
and the beauties of nature with the resources of art". Admire that 
poet whose enthusiasm was roused by "a plant cover'd with dew and 
illumin'd by a bright ray of the sun". Though "the beautiful and the 
noble" must be sought "in the forms", Gessner is the self in art 
breaking through common rule. Reynolds was indeed Reynolds, and 
President of the Academy; but Gessner, artist and poet, was Europe's 
most popular author. Scores of young artists must have read him on 
landscape, as thousands read his innocent, if insipid Idylls. And 1776 
is four years from our starting point of 1780. 

Dates are only conveniences, only termini or boundaries gapped 
and full of holes. Once romantic self-expression has been practised, 
admitted, legislated for, it may falter, weaken, change, but it does not 
easily disappear from the human make-up; and even before the 
terminus a quo of the seventeen-eighties, plenty of that self-expression, 
plenty of that nature and self, had already been painted. For ex- 
ample, the vision of Alexander Cozens. Before Fuseli ever set 
his cloven hoof in England, Cozens had determined to put the image 
of a charming face before his mind, "and by it flatter my longing 
Soul with Visions of happyness.' u Cozens was an eighteenth century 
maker of systems (his life and the life of Linnaeus are almost co-eval), 
yet his longing soul (unlike the soul of Stubbs) dwelt naturally, ex- 
pressed itself naturally, in shadow and twilight. No one but a man 
of the new age, in spite of class and system, could have talked of 

1 Sketch book, Walpole Society. XV, 1927-28. The probable date is 1746. 

48 



THE VISION OF THE ENGLISH ROMANTICS 

"flattering" his soul flattering it, moreover, with the image of a 
charming face and visions of happiness. Souls, a hundred years 
before, like the hart after the water-brooks, had longed for God, and 
did not flatter themselves that they were going to find him. It was 
Cozens who moulded the arch-romantic William Beckford. And 
Beckford spans the age of English romantic art, was the only English 
writer who at once gave himself naked and reckless to romanticism, 
who understood romantic painting, who was the patron, or purchaser, 
successively of the younger Cozens, of James Ward, and of Francis 
Danby. Romantic vision and Beckford died together in the 'forties. 
When in the 'eighties the vision was newly born, Beckford, at 
twenty-one, had mocked the accepted art with his Memoirs of Extra- 
ordinary Painters (1780), among whom was Sucrewasser of Vienna 
who went to Venice to paint in fresco on casino walls; his way there 
lying "through some very romantic country which he never deigned 
to regard, modestly conjecturing he was not yet worthy to copy 
nature". No, he painted snuff-boxes for gentlemen. "His most 
splendid performance, Salome, mother of the Maccabees, which he 
imitated from Titian, was sold by Soorcrout, in England." 

We know plenty of Beckford, little of Cozens. Of shadow and 
twilight Beckford writes to Cozens in 1780: 1 "Be assured you will 
find me ever the same romantic Being fond of the Woods and 
Mountains. . . . Would to Heaven that you were but here that we 
might flutter together the whole day in this world of elegance and 
when the sun declines enjoy our favourite hour in the Woods of 
Boboli." In 1782 to Cozens (a letter I have already quoted in this 
book): "I am as calm as a Lake sheltered by Hills at Sunset when the 
Winds are still." In fact, no letters are so valuable as Beckford 's to 
Cozens (Cozen's own letters have been destroyed) for getting inside 
the early uncomplicated vision of romantic art. They reflect what 
Cozens preached and felt. A letter, again of our terminus year of 
1780, sets out nine tenths of the whole romantic menu: 

"I am eagerly wishing for a Spirit like yours to comfort and revive 
my own. Nothing, I think, will prevent me daring to be happy in 
defiance of glory and reputation. Why should I desire the applause 
of Creatures I despise? rather let me enjoy that heartfelt satisfaction 
which springs from innocence and tranquillity. The peaceful 
Palace and woody Hills which surround it shall bound my desires. 
There will we remain lost in our Meads and copses, wandering 
carelessly about, offering sacrifice to Sylvan deities and fancying 

1 The quotations are from Lewis Melville's Life and Letters of William Beckford. 

C 49 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

ourselves recalled to that primaeval period when Force and Empire 
were unknown. I am now approaching the Age when the World in 
general expect me to lay aside my dreams, abandon my soft 
illusions and start into public Life. How greatly are they deceived, 
how firmly am I resolved to be a Child for ever! Next Summer I 
hope will give you a proof of my constancy when if I return from 
Rome you will find me stretched under my beeches on the Hill of 
Pan, or running wild amongst the Thickets which cover the Satyr's 
range. At night we will retire to the Cell and consult our Arabians, 
penetrate into remote Countries and fancy we discover the high 
Mountains of Gabel al Comar. It shall be my business to collect 
prints and drawings which illustrate our favourite ideas, and I 
flatter myself with the hopes of passing many an evening with you 
in their contemplation. Every month we shall invent some new 
Ornament for our Apartments and add some exotic rarity to its 
treasures. Our pleasures will be continually varying, sometimes 
we shall inhabit our Huts on the borders of the Lake, and sometimes 
our vast range of solemn subterraneous Chambers visible by the 
glow of lamps and filled with Cabalistic Images . . . Another 
moment will find us encamped upon the green Desert we were so 
fond of, drinking our Coffee in open Tents and dreaming our- 
selves in Yomen Next day we shall repair to the stone of power, 
where to speak the Language of Fingal: * Spirits descend by night 
in dark red streams of Fire'." 

Unpick it, and here, in the mind of a boy of twenty-one, are all, or 
most of the simple elements of the vision tranquillity, innocence, 
being a child, the primaeval and the primitive, of time, and of nature, 
pantheism, and the sylvan, neo-classic deities, mystery and the east, 
the cave, the glint of light off water or in fire, the darkness around 
light, and the demonics of power and mighty action. All the items 
of a programme to be developed; a programme not of painting which 
was to deduce its laws and rules (Addison's demand) "from the 
general sense and taste of Mankind"; or painting which, according 
to Jonathan Richardson (dead in 1745), was to "entertain and in- 
struct", on a level with poetry, history, philosophy, and theology. 
No; a programme of the immediate avenues of the mind, the indivi- 
dual sense of the individual artist. He is licensed now to be himself. 
Whether by Blake, or Turner, or Constable, or Palmer, Etty, or 
Bonington, or J. F. Lewis, or that other orientalist, Muller, (who was 
oriental plus Constable), no romantic picture exists that could not 
be tied up to some item of this laissez-aller of romantic individual- 

50 



THE VISION OF THE ENGLISH ROMANTICS 

ism. One item or another is there in Blake's "Adam naming 
the Beasts", Constable's "Weymouth Bay", Ward's "Gordale 
Scar", Etty's "Youth on the Prow and Pleasure at the Helm", 
Turner's "Whale-Ship", or a mystical moonlight by Palmer. 
Once history had granted the license, it was up to any roman- 
tic artist to use it; to feel such sensations as Beckford's; to am- 
plify them, to dignify them, to give intensity and value to them, by 
his own method. 

In The Harp of Aeolus, I wrote of the two ways, the realist and the 
projective, of relating the self and nature. I. A. Richards put it, of 
Coleridge and Wordsworth, like this: "In the first doctrine, man, 
through Nature, is linked with something other than himself which 
he perceives through her. In the second, he makes of her, as with a 
mirror, a transformed image of his own being." The second was the 
commoner way with English artists; but, as in Coleridge, though 
with much simpler implications, there was often in one artist a co- 
existence of the two attitudes. But mixed. Yet mixed or separate, 
each way can lead to an intoxication. The realist, pantheist doctrine 
leads to a more objectified, solider vision, in which the reality of 
things can become more than real. That is where, as artists, Blake 
and Samuel Palmer, so sharply divide Palmer seeking a God out- 
side himself, through and beyond Nature, Balke as one of the ten 
intellectuals of romanticism, making something intricate, central and 
valuable of the projective attitude "There is no Natural Religion". 
"All religions have one source. The true Man is the source, he being 
the Poetic Genius". To mirror himself, he took from nature as little 
as he could; and so, eventually, the weak "untruth" of his forms com- 
pared with the globular clouds and grappling, muscular, lichened and 
moss-solid trees of Palmer. Constable again is a self-projector, but 
so to speak a lay projector, who cautioned a friend on the way to hear 
Edward Irving preach and explain prophecies, against enthusiasm in 
religion; the painter of the still small voice after the fire, the painter of 
generalized forms to express the image of his own, relatively simple, 
turbulent self. Beckford, as a romantic, shows one how difficult it 
can be to disentangle the two attitudes: he may mirror himself in the 
still lake, yet both attitudes co-exist in that poem he wrote within the 
aspiring, insecure walls of Fonthill: 

Like the low murmur of the secret stream, 
Which through dark elders winds its shaded way, 
My suppliant voice is heard: ah, do not deem 
That on vain toys I throw my hours away! 

51 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

In the recesses of the forest vale, 
On the wild mountain, on the verdant sod, 
Where the fresh breezes of the morn prevail, 
I wander lonely communing with God. 

When the faint sickness of a wounded heart 
Creeps in cold shuddering through my sinking frame, 
I turn to Thee that holy peace impart 
Which soothes the invokers of Thy awful name. 

O all-pervading spirit sacred Beam! 

Parent of life and light! Eternal Power! 

Grant me, through obvious clouds, one transient gleam 

Of Thy bright essence in my dying hour. 

No doubt one could work out a scale of vision for English romantic 
painters, according to Blake's single vision, two-fold, three-fold and 
four-fold vision. In Single Vision "May God us keep", said Blake 
"From single vision and Newton's sleep" is the bottom end of the 
scale where the merest reflectors belong, the simplest of the land- 
scape or portrait hacks, the uninterpretative, those whom Palmer 
condemned as mere "naturalists" (Fuseli, for example, had given a 
tempered rebuff to the Dutchman for bordering upon negative 
landscape, condemning "the last branch of uninteresting subjects, 
that kind of landscape which is entirely occupied with the tame 
delineation of a given spot".) The rather less simple theists and 
pantheists as well as projectors, go up one in the scale. In their 
varying degrees and natures, Alexander Cozens's vision, Girtin's, 
Mulready's, Wilkie's, Crome's, Constable's (as Blake recog- 
nized), Cotman's, Bonington's, Turner's, Danby's all have more or 
less of this spirituality of a two-fold vision; and three-fold vision (of 
which Linnell had a touch in his early years) brings us over the bor- 
der into Palmer's land of sanctified moonlight and sanctified shep- 
herds, the Beulah land of an artist, in his own words, who "will sur- 
render to be shut up among the dead, or in the prison of the deep, so 
I may sometimes bound upwards; pierce the clouds; and look over the 
doors of bliss, and behold there 'each blissful deity, How he be- 
neath the thunderous throne doth He'." 1 Four- fold is Blake's extreme 
mysticism, withdrawing from nature altogether. Another thing 
worth remembering, worth investigating, to cross only over the edge 
of the whole relation of romanticism and religion, is that many of the 
Romantic artists did not belong to the Church of England. Blake's 

1 Grigson: Samuel Palmer. 

52 



THE VISION OF THE ENGLISH ROMANTICS 

religion was his own. Flaxman was a Swedenborgian, Cornelius 
Varley (a much underesteemed Romantic) a Sandemanian, Linnell 
both Baptist and Plymouth Brother, James Ward was religiously 
eccentric, Stothard was a dissenter. Palmer began as a Baptist and 
moved towards High Church and the Oxford Movement. Pugin 
was a Catholic. Of Palmer's intimates, Finch followed Swedenborg, 
Tatham followed the prophetic Irving, and Calvert became a mystical 
pagan. Only Richmond, becoming a mild purveyor of smooth 
portraits, was a conventional churchman. Much of our romantic art 
involved, in revolt against the common sense of deism, a religion 
which was peculiar and personal, as with such artists as Runge and 
Friedrich in Germany. And in literature, as I say, even the self- 
indulgent, self -intoxicating Beckford found himself in communion 
with God among the alders, the clouds and the mountains. 

The commonest attitude, particularly as time went on, was that of 
an anti-intellectual, uninquisitive, projection, quietist or violent, via 
sunset or the mighty forces expressed in the art of men who did not 
behold so very much 

" . . . of higher worth, 
Than that inanimate cold world, allowed 
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd." 

Yet no matter what the attitudes, the minglings of attitude, and the 
individual variations may be, constant in the romantic vision are self, 
and in spite of Blake nature, in much the sense that we commonly 
give to the word. Even Fuseli, "put out" by nature, was an Aurelian, 
a keen man on butterflies; in which he was followed by Stothard, who 
had the entomological honour of capturing the first Mountain 
Ringlet, at Ambleside, in the Lake District, in 1809. 1 Indeed the new 
concern with nature of the romantics does arise, to some extent, out 
of the particular, scientific study of nature in the eighteenth century. 
The romantics were tempted to particularize (it was the Preraphael- 
ites who fell, in the end). But where nature was needed for the 
expression of the self, for the longings of the soul, the old eighteenth 
century rules of art could only be modified, in this matter, and 
transformed, not in the main, altogether discarded. Fuseli still 
understood by nature "the general and permanent principles of 
visible objects, not disfigured by accident on distempered by disease, 
not modified by fashion or local habits". Nature for Fuseli was 
still "a collective idea"; so, even if the particular and detailed are 
learned off by heart they are digested, peptonized in the romantic 

1 Butterflies. E. B. Ford, 1945, p. 19. 

53 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

soul, and returned from sketch-book to canvas, not untruthfully, but 
broadly and generally. Look at the final generalization of any one of 
Constable's elder bushes, in The Hay Wain, for example, compared 
with a blossoming or fruiting tree of Palmer's religious realism. The 
atmosphere, the mood of self through nature, remained, widely 
speaking, more important than any of nature's frettings. So Crome 
writes in 1816 that "Trifles in nature must be overlooked" (not that 
he refrained from sketching them) "that we may have our feelings 
raised by seeing the whole picture at a glance, not knowing how or 
why we are charmed." 

The romantic representation of nature, in this way, is the parti- 
cularity of science diluted with soul. Thus no landscape in England 
was more appropriate than the landscape which romanticism dis- 
covered and exploited the landscape of the Lake District. To 
understand the commoner romantic vision, look back from the door- 
way of the Victorian hotel onto Buttermere: watch mood diluting 
reality, watch the romantic soul, with its small low clouds, identical 
with the water-glowing air, between lake, mountain and sky, em- 
bracing and modifying everything. Nature is vaporized by Alexander 
Cozens and by his son (a Lake artist): nature gathers itself together, 
solidifies bit by bit, with the religious realists, or as the original im- 
pulses of the romantic vision weaken against materialism; but if 
there is detail of leaves and plants five times as solid and precise in 
the charming weakness and sentiment of Danby's "Disappointed 
Love" (1821) as in a mountain monochrome by Alexander Cozens, 
still mood remains pervasive: nature must still conform to the mood. 
The plants must droop with the girl and with her spirits and with 
the self-expression of the artist. 

As to the individual elements and items of nature, the one most 
abundantly present in the romantic vision is light from the magni- 
ficent perspective of starry, spangled universes mezzotinted away 
into darkness in Thomas Wright's Original Theory of the Universe, 
as early as 1750, to the wide lights of Constable ("The sky is the 
source of light in nature and governs everything"), and of Turner, 
and of Danby, the water-lights and moonlights of Palmer, and the 
sheens of Etty. Light pervades, floats, sparkles, shines in darkness, 
and, by uniting, carries out the Expression of mood. It has life. 
Moreover, symbolizing spontaneity, its presence in pictures is re- 
lated both to the spontaneity and to the colour of romantic vision, as 
well as to their natural expression by means of watercolour. 

As art becomes the extension of self, less meditated, less reasoned, 
less arranged, less controlled, so spontaneity increases; so, in the 

54 



THE VISION OF THE ENGLISH ROMANTICS 

words of Constable's much admired Gessner, "A thought conceiv'd 
in the first warmth, an effect by which we are struck at the first view, 
is never so well express'd as by the strokes that are drawn at that 
instant." There it is, I think there, and not in any mechanical ex- 
planation, any mere development from topography and tinting, that 
you find the cause of romantic watercolour; it is the quick medium of 
the instant, of the "immediate avenue of the mind". And when self 
and spontaneity decay, watercolour goes on being used in the 
nineteenth century, but with an intricate, large-scale, ludicrous 
virtuosity it was not fitted for or devised for. There too, in the flash, 
in the thought conceived in the first warmth, in the self, lies the 
cause of that absence of " design" in so much English romantic 
painting, that weakness of draughtsmanship. Inevitable perhaps in 
the very virtue of the romantic vision. Last of all, light illuminates, 
creates colour. Obedience to the common sense and common taste 
of mankind expressed itself to some degree in the unspontaneous, 
unnatural sobriety of monotone, in that ineluctable brown on which 
the Cambridge don, Henry Matthews was still insisting as late as 
1817, to Constable's amusement. But as truth to self through nature 
supplanted that rational obedience, so, with light, natural colours 
truth to colour crept into the frame. As this truth to self through 
nature, or groping towards a God through nature, was, in turn, sup- 
planted by truth to nature alone by materialism so colour shar- 
pened; it lost the harmony of romantic compromise, it became more 
accurate, scientific, disagreeable (compare a Ford Madox Brown 
landscape with a Constable). The romantic feels his colours to be 
right: by the forties and the fifties the artist is invoking the scientific 
investigators of light and colour, to put them right. He is pulling 
sheep into the studio, and pushing Ophelia into the bath. 

In the end, and outside art, comes the hideous (and rather sup- 
positious) accuracy of the colour photograph. The photographs, for 
example, in 1945 in Dr. Ford's superlative book on butterflies. Just 
compare his plates with the illustrations in colour, in The Aurelian 
of Moses Harris in 1766. You will find it a sad comparison, illuminat- 
ing things less pompously and more quickly, absolutely, than most 
books of the history of art. 



55 



5 

THE UPAS TREE 

The Gods of the earth and sea 
Sought thro 9 Nature to find this Tree; 
But their search was all in vain: 
There grows one in the Human Brain. 

TH E Upas Tree was never in a nurseryman's catalogue. But 
its home at any rate when I was at school was in the 
heavy soil of leading articles in The Times and in the antique 
shop of the minds of the Front Bench. Under the stimulus of The 
Times, it was a question in general knowledge papers in the Lower 
Sixth: "Define a terminological inexactitude, the Chiltern Hundreds, a 
Upas Tree". How worn out it has become a romantic property once 
like the Aeolian Harp, then a phrase for politicians one can guess 
when under the first majority Labour Government, no Tory has 
ever used it in denunciation, ever said "The Upas Tree of Marxist 
Pedantry and impracticable idealism poisons the whole fair fame of 
the country, the old and the well tried spirit of the country's freedom 
of enterprise. The bodies of bank managers, of city editors, the 
bones of managing directors, and the broken wings of civilization 
will lie in deadly confusion" ( Opposition cheers ) "in deadly 
confusion under the all-blighting branches of this Tree of pestilential 
Nationalization. " 

The Upas Tree so it is usually held began as a joke, in time for 
the open romanticism between Monk Lewis and Pushkin. But began 
is too much. It was not invented by the scholarly jester George 
Steevens, Fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries, 
composer of a celebrated letter in which George Peele wrote of a 
meeting with Shakespeare in the Globe, and of obscene notes upon 
Shakespeare, attributed to two parsons he disliked. It was no more 
his invention than the Aeolian Harp had been the invention of James 
Oswald. Both Harp and Tree go* back to the seventeenth century. 
What Steevens appears to have done is to have composed the Upas 
Tree, in the sense of composing, or arranging its horrors, as they 
were given out in the London Magazine in 1783, together with a 
translation from a Dutch surgeon in Java. "The existence of the 
Upas-tree, and the noxious powers of its gums and vapours are 

56 



THE UPAS TREE 

certain." And within six years, in Darwin's Loves of the Plants, the 
Upas Tree did indeed begin its service in romanticism: 

Where seas of glass with gay reflection smile 

Round the green coasts of Java's palmy isle; 

A spacious plain extends it's upland scene, 

Rocks rise on rocks, and fountains gush between. 

Softs breathes the breeze; eternal summers reign, 

And showers prolific bless the soil in vain! 

No spicy nutmeg scents the vernal gales: 

No towering plantain shades the mid-day vales: 

No grassy mantle hides the sable hills; 

No flowery chaplet crowns the trickling rills: 

No step retreating on the sand impressed, 

Invites the visit of a second guest. 

Fierce in dread silence, on the blasted heath 

Fell Upas sits . . . 

Darwin's notes suggest first one tree in the wide world, a Tree of 
Death to the Tree of Life; and then a series of trees, as though the 
Upas respectably belonged to a genus. "There is a poison tree" 
here is the Tree of Death "a poison tree in the Island of Java, 
which is said by its effluvia to have depopulated the country for 
twelve or fourteen miles round the place of its growth. It is called in 
the Malayan language Bohon-Upas; with the juice of it the most 
poisonous arrows are prepared; and to gain this, the condemned 
criminals are sent to the tree with proper direction both to get the 
juice and to secure themselves from the malignant exhalations of the 
tree, and they are pardoned if they bring back a certain quantity of 
the poison. But by the registers kept there, not one in four are said 
to return. Not only animals of all kinds, both quadrupeds, fish and 
birds, but all kinds of vegetables also are destroyed by the effluvia of 
the noxious tree; so that in a district of twelve or fourteen miles 
round it, the face of the earth is quite barren and rocky intermixed 
only with the skeletons of men and animals, affording a scene of 
melancholy beyond what poets have described or painters have 
delineated." 

Here was something to balance the optimism of romance; some- 
thing to represent evil in that heart of good and evil now acknow- 
ledged; a picturesque, vegetable death to balance the universal 
sprouting, in poems and pictures, of all the pretty flowers of Paradise 
and drawing-room; a necessary antithesis to the rising, falling trilling 
of the Aeolian Harp in the eglantine windows. Darwin's other details 

c* 57 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

are more sober: "The Bon Upas tree is easily recognized at a distance 
being always solitary" so there was more than one tree, after all 
the soil around it being barren, and as it were burnt up; the dried 
juice is dark brown, liquefying by heat like other resins. It is col- 
lected with the greatest caution, the person having his head, hands 
and feet carefully covered with linen that his whole body may be 
protected from the vapour as well as from the droppings of the tree. 
No one can approach so near as to gather the juice, hence they supply 
bamboes, pointed like a spear, which they thrust, obliquely, with 
great force, into the trunk . . . the concreted juice is formed into 
globules or sticks, and is kept in hollow reeds, carefully closed, and 
wrapped in tenfold linen .... The vapour of the tree produces 
numbness and spasms of the limbs, and if anyone stands under it 
bare headed, he loses his hair; and if a drop falls on him violent in- 
flammation ensues. Birds which sit on the branches a short time drop 
down dead, and can even with difficulty fly over it; and not only no 
vegetables grow under it, but the ground is barren a stone cast 
around." Not only more than one tree now, but no twelve or fourteen 
miles of devastation. 

In fact there was, indeed is, a poison tree of Java. "Upas" was the 
Malay for poison. As the Aeolian Harp preceded Oswald the com- 
poser, so, as I say, the Upas, in legend and in fact, preceded George 
Steevens and his first disciple, Erasmus Darwin. Towards the end of 
the authentic, poetic, spiritual usage of the Tree, its history and status 
were well examined, in 1838, in the first part of J. J. Bennett and 
Robert Rrown'sPlantaeJavanicae Rariores. The natural tree is there 
pictured and described as Antiaris toxicaria. Its poison had been 
tested in 1811 by the surgeon, Sir Benjamin Brodie; and the tree had 
been described by the naturalist, Thomas Horsfield (through whom 
Bennett and Brown's book was published and who kept the Museum 
of the East India Company, in Leadenhall Street). He had com- 
municated an "Essay on the Oopas" to a learned society in Batavia 
in 1812, it had been printed in Batavia in 1814, and printed again in 
England in 1818 a date which needs remembering. Meanwhile, 
Bennett and Brown show that the Javanese poison tree as 
a fable, or mixture of fact and fable, dates back at least to 1609, to 
Argensola's Conquista de las Islas Malucas, in which it is a large tree, 
causing sleep and then death to anyone who approaches it; Tavernier, 
the Frenchman describes the tree in his Voyages in 1676; Kaempfer, 
in Amoenitates Exoticae, in 1712, gives details of the dangers of col- 
lecting the juice, the birds that fall from the air, the employment of 
criminals; and when at last, Puck the Commentator, or George 

58 



THE UPAS TREE 

Steevens, edited, assembled, reordered and enlivened the whole 
vegetable horror in the London Magazine, his account was rapidly 
translated in magazines abroad, into German and Dutch, and so on. 
England, leading the rest of Europe, had in effect invented another 
essential of Romance. 

Darwin's first poetical exploitation of the Upas, in 1789, exploded 
with such quick effect that, two years later, one finds the Poison Tree, 
with some surprise, among the innocent vegetation of the New 
Forest in William Gilpin's Forest Scenery. The gentle, clerical law- 
giver of the picturesque was rather more intelligent, sensitive, and 
instrumental in the formation of romantic tastes and feeling than we 
perhaps realize. He included the Upas and on thinking again, the 
surprise is scarcely well-founded in his section upon celebrated 
trees, quoted from the London Magazine, and from Dr. Darwin, 
remarked that Darwin seemed to believe in the existence of the Tree, 
and also seemed to believe in it himself. The presence of the Upas 
in Forest Scenery must have been a strong aid in its romantic dis- 
persal and success. 

Everything was now ready; and I think, that in English the most 
moving use of the Tree, simply and by name, turned out to be 
Byron's. But between Darwin and Gilpin, and Byron, came William 
Blake and Coleridge and Southey. In the memorandum book which 
Coleridge filled between 1795 and 1798, in that wonderful period 
leading to The Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, The Wanderings oj Cain 
and Part I of Christabel, he shows he is thinking about the Tree and 
its possibilities. " Upas-Tree a poem/' is one entry. Later, " De- 
scribe a Tartarean Forest all of Upas Trees." He did use the milder 
poison-tree of tropical America, the Manchineel, in his lines of 1797, 
To the Rev. George Coleridge. But the Upas Tree poem never came. 
Perhaps he abandoned the Tree as too theatrical, sensational and 
miasmal. For Southey, turn up Thalaba (1801): 

From that accursed venom springs 
The Upas Tree of Death. 

In Blake's poems, if the exploitation of the Upas is not so clear, it is 
deeper; and he recreated the Tree, and stripped it of the literal ad- 
juncts of which he may have read in the London Magazine, in Darwin 
and in Gilpin. 

Blake was twenty-six when the Tree was reordered by Steevens, 
or thirty-two when Darwin included it in The Loves of the Plants. 
In him the Upas grows first in America (1793), and in 1794 in Songs 
of Experience (the Songs of Innocence and Experience, remember, sho\y 

59 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

"the two contrary states of the human soul") in the poems, The 
Human Abstract and The Poison Tree. Blake's Tree of Mystery has a 
"dismal shade", men die underneath it, but after eating of its fruit. 
Caterpillar and fly feed on the tree, and the Raven nests in it. It is 
not quite the same mythically botanical species. But if one reads 
through all the lines upon the Tree of Mystery in The Book of Ahania 
(1795) and in The Four Zoas (1795-1804), and in Jerusalem (1804- 
1820), one cannot doubt that Blake's tree has grown out of Darwin's 
and Steevens's. Blake associates it with "gloomy rocks", "withered 
valleys", and mountains; it gives out "intoxicating fumes", "spec- 
trous dead" wail round it, its roots are irrigated by the "death sweat 
of Urizen's victims". 1 Blake re-creates the Tree out of Genesis and 
Java, and gives it an imaginative, symbolic significance by no means 
too recondite to share: 

Pity would be no more 
If we did not make somebody Poor; 
And Mercy no more could be 
If all were as happy as we. 

And mutual fear brings peace, 
Till the selfish loves increase: 
Then Cruelty knits a snare, 
And spreads his baits with care. 

He sits down with holy fears, 
And waters the ground with tears; 
Then Humility takes its root 
Underneath his foot. 

Soon spreads the dismal shade 
Of Mystery over his head; 
And the Catterpiller and Fly 
Feed on the Mystery. 

And it bears the fruit of Deceit, 
Ruddy and sweet to eat; 
And the Raven his .nest has made 
In its thickest shade. 

1 See the references to the Tree of Mystery in the Index of Symbols, D. J. Sloss 
and J. P. R. Walhs: The Prophetic Writings of William Blake. The references are 
given under the "Mundane Shell". The Mundane Shell, according to Sloss & 
Wallis, "is the total of the errors due to reliance on the senses", and the Tree of 
Mystery is used with an equivalent meaning. 

60 



THE UPAS TREE 

The Gods of the earth and sea 
Sought thro* Nature to find this Tree; 
But their search was all in vain: 
There grows one in the Human Brain. 

Next Byron; and Byron's more literal employment, compared with 
Blake's recreation of the Upas, will do more than many paragraphs 
to explain two diverse types of the poetic mind and poetic method. 
Byron and Shelley, one knows, were familiar with Erasmus Darwin's 
books, having sat up one night discussing Darwin on the origins of 
life a discussion which caused Mary Shelley to dream the beginnings 
of Frankenstein. It was in the same year, 1818, in which Mary Shelley 
published Frankenstein, that Byron published Canto the Fourth of 
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: 

Alas! our young affections run to waste, 
Or water but the desert; whence arise 
But weeds of dark luxuriance, tares of haste, 
Rank at the core, though tempting' to the eyes, 
Flowers whose wild odours breathes but agonies 
And trees whose gums are poisons; such the plants 
Which spring beneath her steps as Passion flies 
O'er the world's wilderness, and vainly pants 
For some celestial fruit forbidden to our wants . . . 

Our life is a false nature: 'tis not in 

The harmony of things, this hard decree, 

This ineradicable taint of sin, 

This boundless Upas, this all-blasting tree, 

Whose roots is earth, whose leaves and branches be 

The skies which rain their plagues on men like dew 

Disease, death, bondage all the woes we see, 

And worse the woes we see not which throb through 

The immedicable soul, with heart-aches ever new . . . 

1818 was also the year in which the English publication of Thomas 
Horsfield's Essay on the Oopas replaced fable with reality; but the 
Upas was by now too much needed, too rooted in the century, to be 
felled, or killed. Horsfield also called the tree the "Antshar" (there- 
fore Antiaris toxicarid), so one supposes Pushkin must have known 
of his paper, when the tree took Russian root as deeply as in Byron 
and more effectively still, in his strong poem of Anchor, of 1828: 

61 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

In the pale unyielding desert 
On soil that sun rays curse, 
Anchar like a dreadful sentry 
Stands sole in the universe. 

The sun-tortured, thirst-racked steppeland 
Gave it birth in a day of wrath, 
And fed the dull green of its leafage 
And its roots with a poisoned broth. 

Through its bark thick poison oozes 
And, melting when midday comes, 
Congeals again in the evening 
In smooth, transparent gums. 

No bird ever lights in its branches, 
No tiger approaches the tree; 
Alone the black storm wings brush it 
And, venom-infected, flee. 

If a wandering rain- cloud moistens 
Its dense and unstirring leaves, 
The burning sand from its branches 
A poisonous dew receives. 

But one man to the tree sends another 
With a glance that, imperious, burns, 
And the poor slave sets out on his journey 
And at dawn with the poison returns. 

He brings with him poisonous resin 
And a branch with a few faded leaves, 
And the sweat on his pallid forehead 
In thick streams trickles and cleaves. 

The poison he brings, and fainting 
At the feet of his dread lord lies 
On the bast that the tent-floor covers. 
He utters no word, and dies. 

But the king, in that poison steeping 
His arrows with secret art, 
To his enemies sends destruction 
And death on each poisoned dart. 1 

Translated by Walter Morison. 

62 



THE UPAS TREE 

I do not know any other use to stand beside these three, except 
perhaps Francis Danby's picture which he painted and exhibited two 
years after Byron's vision of the universal Upas Tree. This large 
picture, five foot six by seven foot six in its frame, astonished London. 
In the catalogue of the British Institution it appears as "The Upas, 
or Poison-Tree, in the Island of Java. Vide Darwin in his Loves of the 
Plants"] not far away a new stage in English sentiment was dis- 
playing itself "Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a distressed Traveller", 
by Edwin Landseer. Danby followed and amplified Darwin's notes; 
and since the picture, now in the Victoria and Albert, is an asphaltum 
wreck, it is as well we have Richard and Samuel Redgrave's picture of 
the picture in words: 1 

"To succeed in such a subject required a poetical mind, joined to 
powers of the highest order: no more landscape painting, no mere 
imitation of nature, would suffice to picture to us the gloomy 
horrors of this land of fear. Danby's interesting picture represents 
a deep chasm in a valley of dark slatey rocks, into which the pale 
light of the hidden moon only partially penetrates. Above the 
black crest of the gorge is a space of star-lit sky, with the pointed 
summits of a mountain range stretching away into the distance. 
The sides of the cleft are rugged, full of rifts and seams, and wholly 
bare. Vegetation there is none, but the solitary Upas growing out 
of the thin soil at the bottom of the valley. The whole rests in the 
silence of death, broken only by the drippings of a little fall of 
water from the gloomy rocks. The poison-seeker is in the fore- 
ground, about half-way down into the cavernous pit, and has just 
arrived within view of the tree and within the influence of the 
pestiferous vapour. He turns sickening from the sight: for at his 
feet are the bodies of several of his latest predecessors, while 
around the fearful tree the ground is white with the dry-bleached 
bones of multitudes who have gone before him, and perished at 
the moment they had reached the goal. Animals there are none, 
instinct has warned them from the fatal spot; but a vulture, flying 
over the chasm, has fallen with extended wings almost at the feet 
of the fainting poison-seeker. The story had been vividly told, 
and yet the horrors do not painfully obtrude. It is a wonderful 
first attempt, and shows the original poetry of Danby's mind." 

There was once, around this time, a diorama of the Upas Tree to be 
seen in London; Danby was interested in a diorama, and it may have 
been on his picture that the peep-show was based. There, under 

1 Under Danby, in their Century of Painters. 

63 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

coloured lights and changing lights, one could see the bones and the 
dead and the dying under the branches, and shiver, and feel what 
would happen if a single drop fell off the leaves onto one's neck. 

A shade lower was the musical drama on the Tree staged at 
Covent Garden in 1822, and devised, with the acumen of a Noel 
Coward to everything that was in the common air, by George Col- 
man. But there is a disappointment, which must have been felt by 
the audience, in this Law of Java: A Play in Three Acts. Colman's 
plot because the hero sent to get the poison could not be killed 
prevented the staging of the Tree itself. The audience were allowed 
no more than a Upas Tree atmosphere: " Finely dismal and roman- 
tick, for many miles round the Upas; nothing but poison'd air, 
mountains, and melancholy. " A criminal indeed comes in back- 
stage, in "a wild and desolate country" of bare hills "rising one above 
the other, and terminating in stupendous barren Mountains'* 
masked, carrying a "closed urn, containing the poison". He stumbles 
and dies, and the hero snatches the urn, and hares back to claim his 
release and save his wife from the wicked ruler's harem. 

That about ends the true employment of the Tree as part of the 
mythology of the English Romantics, along with the Harp of Aeolus, 
the Sarsar, or icy wind of death, 1 and much else including the 
Anaconda the monstrous Cingalese snake which seized tigers and 
wound them round till the ribs cracked and the tiger howled with 
every "loud crash of its bones" (and which has been held to have 
begun in another of George Steevens's jokes). The Harp of Aeolus 
had the longest run, partly because of its nature, partly because one 
could not only use it on paper, but buy it in the music shops as one 
buys a gramophone or a wrieless set. One could plant no Darwinian 
Upas Tree, even at Kew. Poets dropped it; and the tub-thumpers 
and the leader-writers picked it up. 

If one can trust the Oxford English Dictionary, the first orator to 
play with the Upas Tree was Mr. Gladstone in 1868, though more 
than forty years before a political writer in the Westminster Review 
had written of "that Upas Tree which has since borne all the bitter 
fruits of Turkish oppression". Ireland, the Irish Church, was the 
bitter topic to which Mr. Gladstone applied the Upas, in a famous 
speech at Wigan. It was in his peroration. Protestant ascendancy in 
Ireland "is still there like a tall tree of noxious growth, lifting its 
head to heaven and darkening and poisoning the land so far as its 
shadow can extend; it is still there, gentleman", how one can 
imagine the tones, from that single existing record of Gladstone's 

1 Established by Beckford, and used later by De Quincey. 



THE UPAS TREE 

voice, which is sometimes broadcast "it is still there, gentlemen, 
and now at length the day has come, when, as we hope, the axe has 
been laid to the root of that tree, and it nods and it quivers from its 
top to its base. It wants, gentlemen, one stroke more, the stroke of 
these elections"! 

What else could the Upas Tree do but fall, in that time, so changed 
from Blake's, or Byron's, or Pushkin's, a time of high blinkered 
morality in art, of wilful certitude, and wilful optimism fall, and 
become a mere two words, devoid of all its terror and symbolism, 
rooted in the evil hearts of the Opposition, not in the universal heart 
realized by William Blake? And how many times since has "Upas 
Tree" gone pompously off platforms, or around the House of Com- 
mons, been scratched down by quills, flowed smoothly off fountain 
pens, or been tapped out even in the portable typewriter age, in the 
leader-writer's room? I fancy it must have sent up an etiolated 
sprout once or twice on what Mr. D. B. Wyndham Lewis once 
described as a tract of land to be presented to the public, as an open 
space for ever, by an anonymous donor who wished to remain anony- 
mous till the next Birthday Honours the south-eastern slopes, in 
other words, of those articles with which Mr. Garvin used to swell 
the Observer. Now, not even that. Steevens's joke is dead, after 
bearing great poetry and silly tropes. I have not noticed a Upas Tree 
for years. 



65 



6 

SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANBY, A.R.A. 

To EDUCATE oneself in English art, and much else, the 
salerooms are the place; the place to meditate on the dealers 
in line, the quick hundred-guinea nods of Bond Street, the 
well-spoken auctioneer without emotions, the procession of pictures, 
small pictures which can be held up one in each hand, the sixties-by- 
eighties which need two attendants in green baize aprons before they 
are square on the stool for the dealers to look at with financial con- 
tempt unless, as on the occasion I am thinking of, they happen to 
be by Turner or by Constable. 

In this sale there were Eggs, Friths, Ettys, cows by that everlasting 
Victorian, Thomas Sidney Cooper, who was once, hard as it is to 
believe, taught by Fuseli. There were two or three pieces by Millais 
(2,000 guineas for one of them), the Constable (some 6,000 guineas), 
four Turners, three of them factory Turners, all of them a thousand 
to two thousand. The worst Egg, a history piece, went for more than 
two hundred, the best, one of his pieces of Preraphaelite modernism, 
for twenty. And in among this procession of nineteenth-century art, 
the collection of a Liverpool merchant of the nineteenth century's 
amplitude and wealth, in among these lots of dry and dark, of more 
and of less marketable merchandize, was a picture by Francis Danby. 
A big solemn seascape, darkened, in need of cleaning, varnishing, 
restretching; and sadly in need of a reputation. Four bids. Fourteen 
guineas. Constable, who loathed Danby and was not a charitable 
man where his dislikings were concerned, might have been pleased. 
The Victorian R.A.s, whose rubbish had been in the hundred-guinea 
class, might also have been pleased, for their malice, as much as any 
vice of Danby's, was the cause, and remains the cause, of Danby's 
now complete obscurity. 

It was in front of such a Danby as this that another artist who was 
not an R.A., and had no use for the Academy, Ford Madox Brown, 
stood reverentially for half an hour at the exhibition. l 

"His early error had separated him from his brother artists; and 
he remained apart from them until his death ..." "There was 
evidently some obliquity of moral sense in Danby's mind in regard 
to this affair . . ." "Danby defended the fault to the last rather than 

l Preraphaeltte Diaries and Letters, ed. W. M. Rossetti, 1900, p. 84. 

66 



SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANBY, A.R.A. 

regretted it . . ." to the last, to his death, in 1861, five years after 
exhibiting this fourteen-guinea painting, so much the superior to 
that particular six-thousand-six-hundred-guinea Constable, to those 
particular thousand-guinea and two-thousand-guinea Turners. 

II 

I cannot claim to have opened up the mystery and the darkness 
of Danby's life, or to present, finally, an estimate of his work. This is 
only an interim report about an artist who is undeniably interesting, 
various, and persistent in his work, which illustrates a good many of 
the adventures and turns of English romanticism. Danby was an 
Irishman from Co. Wexford. When he was twenty he came over to 
visit London, which must then have seemed the capital of European 
modernism. With him were two other artists, George Petrie, who 
afterwards became celebrated as an Irish archaeologist, and the 
painter of wild landscapes, James O'Connor, who is not infrequently 
represented in English provincial galleries. The year was 1813. 
Turner was thirty-eight, eighteen years older than Danby. He had 
just painted "A Frosty Morning". Other artists have dated their 
lives from their first Turner; and Danby kept this picture in his mind. 
"Turner is a good example," he wrote to Petrie some forty years 
later, "of painting in age. He was well advanced in years" (which was 
not quite true) "when you and I, with our dearly remembered friend, 
poor James O'Connor, first visited London, when we saw his 
beautiful and wonderful picture of the * Frosty Morning 1 . >u The 
three of them went to Wales, much as English artists under the early 
flush of Cezanne went to Provence. Then, his money gone, Danby 
started back to Ireland, walking from London to Bristol. He changed 
his mind, started to draw and teach in Bristol for a livelihood, 
married a Somerset girl, "imprudently" is the adverb used, and un- 
luckily, and began sending his pictures up to the two major ex- 
hibitions. 

At this time he painted a good many small detailed landscapes on 
mahogany panels, rather prosy but firm in construction, and full of a 
clear light landscapes of the red rock scenery around Bristol, with 
the Avon twining through. They are individual and easily dis- 
tinguished. Very soon he began to explore more fashionable modes 
of expression. He visited Norway in search of violent landscape, and 
swung between the two sentimentalities of mild and angry nature. 
Three pictures made him prominent. The Byronic, or Darwinian, 

l Life and Labours of George Petrie, ed. by William Stokes, 1868. 

67 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

"Upas, or Poison Tree of Java" in 1820, 1 " Disappointed Love" in 
1821, and in 1822 "The Raft: Sunset at Sea after a Storm", which 
may, one feels, have stemmed out of Gericault's "Raft of the 
Medusa", exhibited in London two years before. Sir Thomas 
Lawrence, then President of the Academy, liked it, had it well hung, 
and bought it from Danby for more than a hundred guineas. 2 
Danby moved to London on Lawrence's advice, within three years 
he was an A.R.A., and he found himself becoming a celebrity. Sir 
John Soane patronized him from his cave in Lincoln's Inn Fields, 
Beckford from his retreat at Bath. 

As the Academy's man, Danby began to compete in wild and high 
"history" with the non- Academic John Martin. In 1825 he had 
painted a "Delivery of Israel out of Egypt". In 1826 the competi- 
tion at its sharpest Danby was at work on "The Opening of the 
Sixth Seal". But in that same year, Martin exhibited his sensational 
"Deluge", which was held, at any rate, by Danby's friends, to have 
been a plagiarism of Danby's idea for his own apocalypse. Martin got 
in first, showing his picture at the rival house of the British Institution. 
Beddoes the poet (no doubt a Bristol friend of Danby's) wrote to 
B. W. Procter in March: "Have you seen Martin's Deluge; do you 
like it? And do you know that it is a rascally plagiarism upon Danby? 
D. was to have painted a picture for the King: subject, the opening of 
the Sixth Seal in the Revelation: price eight hundred guineas: he had 
collected his ideas and scene, and very imprudently mentioned them 
publicly to his friends & foes it appears; like Campbell and Lord 
B: and lo! his own ideas stare at him out of Martin's canvas in the 
Institution." 3 Still, Danby finished his picture. It appeared at the 
Academy two years later. It was sold, not to the King, but to 
Beckford, who knew as well as Lawrence the difference between the 
powers of Martin and of Danby. Darkened, but still visible, "The 
Sixth Seal" now represents Danby not very well in the National 
Gallery at Dublin, the moon veiled in blood, sinking for the last time: 

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there 
was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of 
hair, and the moon became as blood. 

And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree 
casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind: 

And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; 
And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 

1 For a description of the "Upas", see p. 63. 
8 Western Daily Press, 20th February, 1861. 
8 Letters of Thomas Lovell Beddoes , ed. H. W. Dormer. 

68 



SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANBY, A.R.A. 

" Nothing", it was afterwards written, when the picture was 
exhibited years later in Bristol, to an audience who dared not even 
whisper in front of it, "nothing in this painting is more calculated to 
strike the observer than the extraordinary and powerful combination 
of opposite lights: the red scorching glare of volcanic eruption, that 
fills the background the vivid glare of the lightning, the leaden 
twilight of the foreground, and the calm pure light of heaven, are 
evidences of a genius, bold, daring, and, in this instance, unparal- 
leled. " J He had two more apocalyptic canvases in the next Academy, in 
1829. 

But to go back to the year when Martin forestalled him. In 1826 
he had exhibited "Christ Walking on the Sea". George Cumberland 
had written to his father, Blake's old friend, in Bristol, "Danby cer- 
tainly stands first in the historical: his picture of Christ, walking on 
the sea, as described in the Bible, at night, is quite equal to Rem- 
brandt. As yet it is not sold, but I understand it will be for five 
hundred guineas." 2 Somewhere, and somehow, about this time 
Danby and Constable fell out. There is a hint of ill-feeling in one of 
Constable's letters. But the enmity is plain in the English version of 
a poem in Latin by one of Danby's friends, the Bristol connoisseur, 
John Eagles. The poem praises the Danby themes from fairyland, 
Greek myth, and the Bible. Paint, it says, fairy and satyr, and nymph 
and faun 

Not vulgar bumkins coarse, ill-bred, 
All sweating for their daily bread 

Paint 

. . . themes sublime the fiery rain, 

Departing Lot, the blazing plain; 

Heaven's vengeance upon Egypt dealt; 

Its blood, its darkness to be felt; 

The sinners creeping into cleft 

And hole of rock, the land bereft, 

The awful pause, till wrath awake, 

And God arise the world to shake. 

These, these are themes, that may proclaim, 

So DANBY finds, an artist's fame. 

1 Broadside in British Museum Library, on the exhibition of the Sixth Seal at the 
Bristol Institution. See also Western Daily Press, 13th February, 1861. 

* Richard Garnett: Gleanings from the Cumberland Papers, in the Hampstead 
Annual, 1904-5. 

69 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Learn this, ye painters of dead stumps, 
Old barges, and canals, and pumps, 
Paint something fit to see, no view 
Near Brentford, Islington, or Kew 
Paint any thing, but what you do. 1 

Just the year before, with old barge, dead stumps, canal and pump 
Constable had exhibited his "Dedham Lock". 

Leslie bowdlerized his Constable, whose character had its sharp, 
malicious facet, a certain cunning of the peasant from Suffolk. 
Constable preferred, as he once said, the still, small voice to the vogue 
for vast revelations. But he was a friend of John Martin's at least, 
on the surface, and Martin and Danby were on opposite sides. 
Constable too was an A.R.A. at this time, but one who was not in love 
with the Academy. Once, some years on, after he had answered an 
attack on Martin, delivered from the Academy side, Martin was 
assured by Constable that the Academy could do him no good. His 
reply to the attack had been "that John Martin looked at the Royal 
Academy from the Plains of Nineveh, from the Destruction of 
Babylon, etc". And then Constable added, "I am content to look at 
the Academy from a gate, and the highest spot I ever aspired to was a 
windmill". 2 Danby was volatile, an Irishman, and fashionable, 
Constable quiet, English, and neglected; but whatever caused the ill- 
feeling, whether it was Martin, or whatever it was, it sharpened 
acutely in 1829, with the Academy elections. Danby was defeated by 
one vote, and that vote elected Constable. 3 And one may wonder 
whether Constable, as well as the election, or defeat, had any share in 
the great mystery, which blossomed, almost at once, in Danby's life. 
Constable, as he showed with John Linnell, who had once been his 
friend, was not the man to let go of his enmities. 

in 

It was in 1829, late in the year, that the great rumpus occurred, 
hidden deep and dark behind the biographical velvet of Victorian 
decency. Let us look at some of the hints. Richard and Samuel 
Redgrave, in their Century of Painters (1866): 

Why was Danby never R.A.? . . . Suffice it to say, most emphat- 
ically that it was not for want of a sense of the great merit of the 

1 Rhymes Latin and English, Felix Farley (John Eagles), 1826. The translation was 
by Coleridge's friend J. M. Gutch. For the Constable letter (1828), see Letters of 
John Constable, R.A. to C. R. Leslie R.A., ed. Peter Leslie, p. 10. 

*John Martin, Painter, Mary L. Pendered, 1923, p. 180. 

Hodgson and Eaton: Royal Academy and Its Members, 1905. 

70 



SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANBY, A.R.A. 

painter: not that his art was unappreciated by his brother members; 
hardly even that he made a false step involving the council of that 
day in many annoyances, and bringing disgrace on art; since this 
might have been overlooked as time dimmed its recollection, had 
not Danby defended the fault to the last rather than regretted it. 
One who wrote during Danby's lifetime, and when the cause of his 
being overlooked in the Academy elections must have been well 
known, after abusing the Academy in vulgar language for its 
neglect of the painter, passes over his offence, merely saying, "An 
unhappy marriage and its concomitants shivered his household 
gods"; fine words and ambiguous, and so let them remain. There 
was evidently some obliquity of moral sense in Danby's mind in 
regard to this affair . . . 

Richard Redgrave : A Memoir, by F. M. Redgrave (1891): 

Redgrave records in his journal that in 1853 he wrote to Danby, 
asking if he would care to be proposed, as A.R.A.s were now 
eligible, for the Academicians' Club. Danby replied with a heavy 
NO. He would not care to be proposed, not unless the R.A.s in- 
vited him; and he had other things in his letter to say on the 
Academy. And Redgrave adds "Poor Danby's strictures would 
seem to imply a strange forgetfulness of the real cause of his posi- 
tion, which was due to a scandal that the Academicians could not 
condone." 

Richard Garnett, in the Dictionary of National Biography: 

Danby struck on the rock of domestic difficulties . . . chiefly culp- 
able, and highly culpable . . . imputations cast upon him were 
never made publicly known . . . moral perversity, not to say 
obliquity ... he suddenly left London, declaring he would never 
live there again, and that the Academy, instead of aiding him, had, 
somehow or other, used him badly. Some insurmountable do- 
mestic difficulty overtook him also, and for eleven or twelve years 
he lived on the Lake of Geneva, a Bohemian with boat-building 
fancies. 

The Art Journal, in his obituary (1861): 

We are acquainted with the alleged ground of his rejection, but 
there are many extenuating circumstances which . . . ought to have 
proved sufficient vindication to warrant his admission among the 

71 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

privileged forty. The Academy will never get rid of the charge of 
having, upon evidence not altogether tenable, repudiated one of the 
greatest painters of the age and country. 

Strickland's Dictionary of Irish Artists: 

A hasty and imprudent marriage which was destined to have 
unfortunate effects upon his future career. 

What was the answer? And why did Danby go into exile? And 
why was his name dropped from the canon of English artists? I 
wanted to find out, if only to show how art and morality were unc- 
tuously, damagingly confused, if only to repay Richard Redgrave for 
his priggish pronouncements, if only to repay him for another entry, 
or two other entries in his journal, his insolence to Courbet, upon 
whose "L'Atelier" he "could hardly trust" himself to say what he 
thought "of its coarseness of conception, of execution and design . . . 
the whole is wrought with the execution of a house-painter who has 
just taken up art"; his self-satisfaction: "I have indeed to thank God 
for many blessings ... I have been elected a Royal Academician and 
my pictures have sold well." 1 

Evidently the truth was still known to Richard Garnett, or the 
Academy's version of the truth. I wrote to the Academy; but if 
there is anything in the Academy's records, there it stays, not to be 
divulged. So back again to the D.N.B., and to the lives of all who 
might have known Danby. One of Danby's sons, Thomas Danby, 
was an artist, and there in the entry for him, was a clue: "He lived 
much with Paul Falconer Poole." And Poole? He was a Bristol 
artist: he "married Hannah, widow of Francis Danby, A.R.A". 
He, too, had come up to London; and very oddly, he too had dis- 
appeared from London in 1829 or 1830; not going back to Bristol, as 
one might expect, not going abroad, but apparently to Southampton, 
and for seven years his name is missing from the catalogues of the 
Academy. So obviously Danby, and Poole, and exile, and the rock 
of domestic difficulties, were all mixed up. 

Minor clues attached themselves. Poole and Danby "were at one 
time a good deal together" (the brothers Redgrave). George Cum- 
berland, in a letter to his son about Poole in London: "He is well 
known to Mr. Danby, I believe, and this will be serviceable." 2 
William Bell Scott on Poole: "He was a man with a strain of the 
savage in his blood, and a good hater." 3 Poole 's obituary in the 

1 Richard Redgrave: A Memoir , by F. M. Redgrave. 
1 Richard Garnett, op. cit. 

Richard Garnett, A Hampstead Painter; The late Paul Falconer Poole, R.A. in 
the Hampstead Annual t 1900. 

72 



SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANBY, A.R.A. 

Athenaeum: "a career not entirely unclouded, which began at Bristol 
... his quondam friend Danby". But, so far, the clues only add up 
to suggestion. Poole was only a boy of nineteen or twenty at the time. 
Danby was thirty-six or thirty-seven, and his wife must have been 
years older than Poole and was already the mother of seven children. 
I had inferred simply that Poole lived with Mrs. Danby, marrying her 
at last as an old woman, after Danby's death. But the inference was 
too simple. Danby declares in an autobiographical letter in the 
British Museum, that "in 1829 from some unhappy circumstances in 
my Family I left England." By July 28, 1830, when George 
Cumberland wrote from Bristol to his son, Poole had married he 
had married "a Welsh lady from Crickhowel introduced t(o him by) 
Mr. Danby, they say." In August Cumberland wrote of Johnson, an 
artist friend of Danby 's who had resettled in Bristol as a drawing 
master that he was "greatly grieved at Danby's conduct". 1 Professor 
H. W. Hausermann adds the next information from the papers of the 
Chambre des Etrangers, an administrative commission at Geneva 
which kept an eye upon aliens in the Canton. Danby came to Geneva 
in August, 1832. With him came his seven children, two illegitimate 
children, and "une concubine avec laquelle il cohabite" named, a 
Welsh name, Helen Evans. In April 1836, after Helen Evans, then 
aged twenty-seven had born him a third child, Danby left Geneva, 
having come near, in his three and a half years* sojourn, to being 
expelled for debt. 2 It looks, indeed, like an exchange of wives. 
Everything was heaped upon Danby, perhaps with reason. Poole, 
as a boy, was allowed to grow out of his fault, if there was a fault. 
He was made an A.R.A. in 1846, some years after Danby returned 
from exile; and Danby lived just long enough to see, and no doubt 
without any pleasure, his quondam friend given the thing he had 
always been denied full membership of the Academy. 



IV 

It is not easy to realize now, when for so long no generative, 
considerable painter has been, or needed to be, an R.A., what 
membership meant in early days, in standing and ability to earn. 
In Danby's life, at the time of Danby's election as an Associate, 
the Academy had a remarkable and an open-minded presi- 
dent in Sir Thomas Lawrence, a painter generous, and wide in 

1 Cumberland Papers, Add. MSS. British Museum. 

1 Francis Danby d Geneve in Alma Mater, Revue nmversilotre, Geneve (1947). 

73 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

his generosity, towards the young. He had befriended Danby 
and Constable he had been enthusiastic about Gericault here 
in London as a young man of thirty. He had had Gericault invited 
to the Royal Academy dinner at which one may pause and 
imagine to oneself Sir Alfred Munnings or his predecessors 
proposing such an invitation for a Picasso, a Klee, a Matisse, or a 
George Grosz. 

To become an Academician meant lobbying and intrigue and a 
degree of crawling. Against his will Constable, who was so sharp 
about crawling in others, so caustic about those " high-minded " 
R.A.s, who preferred "the shaggy posteriors of a Satyr to the moral 
feeling of Landscape", was compelled to do a little dignified crawling 
for himself, as one can see from his canvassing letter to Thomas 
Phillips, R.A. 

I am now past the age of fifty, Mrs. Constable has most delicate 
health, and has seven infant children who have to look to me only 
for everything in this world. 

I don't feel uncomfortable [which means, I do] while I am 
writing this sad letter to you, because I have long known you to 
be a man whose whole conduct is governed by the highest prin- 
ciples of probity and honour. And my object in writing to you at 
all is that I may be placed in your mind fairly in the list of my 
worthy brother candidates. 1 

When Richard Redgrave, years later, was elected to full member- 
ship, he lurked in Trafalgar Square (the Academy was then in the 
National Gallery building), heard the news from one of his R.A. 
friends who slipped out in the dark, took a cab and rushed off with 
the news to his wife: he could not bear the smooth motion of the cab, 
he got out, he paid it off, and ran the rest of the way, no doubt 
clutching his top-hat. 

So one may understand what Danby missed by the election of 
1829, by the subsequent row and the mystery and the exile; and his 
hopes of a reconciliation cannot have been bettered by the death of 
Sir Thomas Lawrence. But, in spite of the Academy, 2 he did manage 
to re-establish himself. For a time, as we have seen, he was in Paris. 
Then came Geneva, yachting on the Lake he was yachtsman, boat- 
builder and inventor as well as artist and years of steady work, 
which included travel once more to Norway, and to Constantinople. 
There are paintings by him in Geneva, in private collections and in the 

1 Art in England 1821-1837, W. T. Whitiey, 1930, p. 144. 

The Academy did send him 50, in 1831, "in consideration of the distressed 
state of himself and his family", in Switzerland (Hodgson & Eaton, Royal Academy 
and Its Members, 1905). 

74 



SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANBY, A.R.A. 

Musee Rath. He came back in 1840, lived near London for a time, 
and then acquired a house a few yards from the sea at Exmouth, in a 
land and seascape of pink light reflected from the anchovy rocks, and 
of wide and shimmering effects. He exhibited, he built boats one of 
his launching trenches is still a bunker on the Exmouth golf-course 
he nursed his bitterness, and he became famous as one of the rebel 
artists outside the Academy. His painting had improved and solemni- 
fied. He still painted his fancy pieces, his wood nymphs hymning 
the sunrise, his Caius Mariuses among the ruins of Carthage, his 
enchanted castles, and Mary Magdalenes in the desert. He achieved 
a curious double reputation a popular one with the merchant buyers 
of the North, and a cult reputation with the Preraphaelites. He had 
dropped violence, for shimmer and reflections upon water, and 
sunrise and sunset, calm, melancholy poeticizing based on a truthful 
observation and strengthened by formal arrangement. The fourteen- 
guinea picture "Dead Calm, Sunset at the Bight of Exmouth" 
has this careful arrangement, a train with a smoke trail moving out 
to the left, smoke curling out to the right, and in between an intricacy 
of horizontals and verticals, masts and spars, the square tower of a 
church, doubled and made more intricate by their reflections in the 
water. And this formality enforces the wide, melancholy, meditative 
impact of the picture. 

The painting which many men regarded as his masterpiece I 
have never seen. It was the "Evening Gun, A Calm on the Shore of 
England", exhibited at the Academy in 1848, and at the Universal 
Exhibition in Paris in 1855, and then two years later at Manchester, 
in that section of the exhibition of the Art Treasures of the United 
Kingdom selected by the semi-Preraphaelite, Augustus Egg. It was 
a man-of-war firing an evening salute, under a sunset sky over a clear 
smooth sea. The most lyrical description of it is by Theophile Gautier: 

Un chef-d'oeuvre, tout simplement . . . Le soleil se couche dans un 
amas de nuages gris entasses par banes au bord de I'horizon, et dont 
les flocons rougissent comme des braises aux reflets de 1'astre pret a 
disparaitre derriere la barre inflexible de la mer; par-dessus ces 
bandes de vapeurs, And all that gorgeous company of clouds, un 
vers de lord Thurlo\v, que Byron se proposait d'emprunter un jour, 
le ciel, degage et pur, passe par les transitions de Taventurine, 
du citron pale, de la turquoise au bleu froid et aux teintes \ioltres 
de la nuit. La mer s'endort calme, unie, huileuse, illumine de quel- 
ques rayons frisants. Entre le ciel et 1'eau, un navire decoupe sa 
silhouette sombre et ses agres tenus comme des fils d'arraignee. Sur 

75 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

le flanc du navire, un tourbillon de fumee opaque, bleuatre et 
lourde, traverse d'un eclair rouge, signale le coup de canon du soir. 
Le pavilion est amene. 

On ne saurait imaginer Teffet poetique de cette scene: il y a 
dans cette toile une tranquillite, un silence, une solitude qui im- 
pressionnent vivement Tame. Jamais la grandeur solennelle de 
1 'Ocean n'a ete mieux rendue. (Les Beaux- Arts En Europe, 1855.) 

Nathaniel Hawthorne saw the "Evening Gun" at Manchester, 
and bowed down before it. 1 Ford Madox Brown, antithetical as his 
practice may have been to Danby's, yet recognized Danby's solemnity 
and truth to nature. He many times referred to Danby; and in 1887, 
when Danby had been dead for twenty-six years and the Jubilee 
Exhibition was organized at Manchester, he wrote bitterly in the 
Magazine of Art on "The Progress of English Art as not shown at 
Manchester". Why was there no Martin? Why was there no Danby? 

The works of Danby at that time, as I remember them forty 
years ago, enjoyed an immense reputation, and were credited with 
all sorts of qualities, while many people admired them in prefer- 
ence to Turner's pictures. I remember one in particular called 
"The Evening Gun", an English man-of-war in the tropics firing 
the salute to parting day a most solemn and beautiful work. There 
was also about the same time a picture of his at the British Institu- 
tion called "The Gates of the Seraglio", which represented the 
steps to the Seraglio at Constantinople as it appeared on the banks 
of the Bosphorus. The setting sun was ablaze in the windows, and 
behind the minarets was a round, full moon, rising as in defiance 
of the declining day, one of the most beautiful effects in all nature. 2 

Rossetti, and his friend, the artist and writer and acute interpreter, 
James Smetham, admired Danby, who must Smetham wrote, 

have watched on lonely hills, in silent vales, the last spark of great 
Day die out and the first rise ten thousand times before he could 
find the secret of that pathetic dream of nature which makes his 
work unique . . . To the believer in Danby all the persuasion and 
settlement is there the data of the poetic that dark pines cutting 
crimson horizons are poetic; that misty tarns with the purple 
evening departing from them are poetic; or that Danby's pines and 
Danby's tarns are so, if a hundred instances in which pines and 
tarns are not so in other men's pictures, or were not so in given 
circumstances in nature, were cited . . . Rossetti would grant me 

1 English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. Randall Stewart, 1941. 

2 Magazine of Art, 1888, pp. 122-4. 

76 



SOME NOTES ON FRANCIS DANBY, A.R.A. 

at once the whole question, because at a glance he sees the whole. 
Here is a man who does not, or will not. No matter, let us turn the 
conversation. But no; he has new questions about the nature and 
value of "authority". What if Rossetti agrees with you about 
Danby? Rossetti is not infallible, and Frith thinks Danby's pic- 
tures "miserable". "Rossetti? where are his pictures to be seen? 
Now Frith painted for the Queen and Royal Family, and is R.A." 1 

It is true, Danby's pictures have not always lasted. To Madox 
Brown's complaint and his mention of the "Evening Gun" and the 
Gates of the Seraglio", properly called the "Gate of the Harem" 
the editor of the Magazine of Att added a defensive note "These 
works are said to be in a ruined condition." The brothers Redgrave 
remark that he seems "to have used some vehicle such as gold-size 
that has darkened with age, and in some cases caused the darks to 
:rack". The very genuine drama of his "Upas Tree", moonlight and 
stars and rocks, waterfall, poison tree, poison seeker, and bones, as I 
have remarked, is now a wreck. Darkening, and the Frith taste of the 
later nineteenth century were added to the fact that Danby had been 
a "bad" man; and all have helped to drive him into oblivion. Dis- 
regarded pictures here and there, a mention in books of reference, 
a Danby Terrace in Exmouth, a grave in the churchyard of the ruined 
Devonshire church of St. John-in-the- Wilderness (very appropriate) 
these are the present memorials of a painter who might have 
established himself as one of the most renowned men of the century, 
a painter, it must have been felt by those Preraphaelite admirers, who 
Dbserved accurately, did not pick nature's pocket, and, at his best, 
ainted with imagination. 

V 

There is a bust of Danby, a marble bust in the National Gallery at 
Dublin, which shows a strong-chinned, vigorous, long face; clean 
shaven, with a suggestion of humour humour and wilfulness com- 
bined. A good face. But I have not found any intimate description 
of Danby, or, in the difficulties of war-time, anything of his corres- 
pondence save for the few published scraps to his friend Petrie. In 
one letter he wrote "though the mind may be a diamond it will require 
a fresh setting if the body be as lead, and its very hardness and dur- 
ability will help us destroy the setting". If Danby's mind was not 
sheer diamond, if he allowed himself much airy-fairiness, to be blown 
about much by fashion, to play his own tune and the public's tune, 
yet he was an artist who cut through his own extravagance, and 

1 Letters of James Smetham, 1902, p. 172. The date is 1866. 

77 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

developed and matured to a grave finality. English art is strewn with 
geniuses up to twenty-five too many of them, repetitive and man- 
nered in their prime and through their days of honour, for us to 
neglect so able an executant as Danby. Moreover, towards artists we 
adopt a hard priggishness which we do not extend to writers. We 
forgive Shelley any amount of such airy-fairiness as Danby (who was 
born the year after Shelley) allowed himself in paint, we forgive 
Dickens for a Little Nell, and for all kinds of too-muchness. Exactly 
because of such elements in painters, we refuse to see and admit their 
virtue. Bewitched by France, we can only see Constable, we can only 
snigger at the sentiments of a Mulready, a Wilkie, a Danby. We 
do not search for, or detect, the genuineness which is scattered 
through their work. We do not even admit to ourselves that, for 
example, Delacroix (see his comments on the 1855 exhibition in 
Paris) could find much to be admired in the English school, and not the 
earlier school of Reynolds; and making no such admission, we do not 
ask why Delacroix admired, and if there was any basis for admiring. 
Our present attitude is uncritical, unhistorical, uninquisitive, as 
little dependent upon ourselves, and as dependent upon authority, as 
the attitude and acts of a row of Bond Street dealers nodding away for 
what they know to be safe and saleable. Exploration would bring 
pleasure and all the rewards of pleasure, and a better understanding 
of the good and the ridiculous, the genuine and the meretricious the 
solid and the fashionable, when we contemplate the rising and setting 
planets and the Milky Way of modernism. I have always held that the 
canon of English painting needs some stiff and sensitive revision; and 
Francis Danby is one man with whom such a revision might begin. 

(In London the best paintings by Danby are in the Victoria and Albeit 
Museum: "Disappointed Love", 1821, "Calypso grieving for her lost 
Lover", 1825, "Liensfiord Lake", 1841, and what is left of "The Upas 
Tree", 1820. "The Opening of the Sixth Seal", 1828, is in the National 
Gallery, at Dublin, but, like the bust, it is not exhibited. One can see a 
small oil painting, "The Last Gleam of Sunset", a portrait of Danby as an 
old man, sad, bearded and longhaired, by H. T. Munns, a few wild land- 
scapes by O'Connor, and many watercolours by Petrie. The Bristol Art 
Gallery owns several Danby's, but none of much interest except the two 
early panel pictures, "Clifton Rocks from Rownham Field", and "Boy 
Fishing, Stapledon Glen". The Art Gallery at Wolverhampton owns 
"Athens by Moonlight"; there are two watercolours in the Oldham Art 
Gallery, and one in the Whitworth Art Gallery at Manchester. The Mus6e 
Rath at Geneva has three oil paintings, "The Baptism of Jesus", "Lake at 
Sunset", "The Baptism of Clorinda". 

"The Fisherman's Home", 1846, is in the Tate Gallery, but was not on 
exhibition before the war. "The Gate of the Harem", 1845, is in the Royal 
Collection. Several of his drawings are in the British Museum). 

78 



7 

HORSE-CHESTNUT TREES 

ON E could measure "taste , and much more than taste, one 
could measure habits, activities, ways and ends of creation 
between 1760 and 1860, by marking, if one could make the 
method fine enough, when certain objects of nature began to force 
themselves into pictures and poems. Most of all, new objects of 
nature, new objects of that blue Mundane Shell and that Vegetative 
Earth which are the enemy and ally of art. For example, trees and 
plants, the numbers of which increased through the eighteenth 
century until in the nineteenth, from America, Australia, New 
Zealand, South Africa, from China, the introductions became each 
year a multitude; giving a new appearance, quickly and universally, 
even to small gardens, a new tinge to the words "flower garden". 

In seeing how much objects were adopted, one must distinguish 
first between the ambitions of poetry. In The Task, William Cowper 
enumerated and described a number of garden shrubs: 

Laburnum, rich 
In streaming gold; syringa, iv'ry pure, etc. 

But one would not find laburnum and syringa, shrubs familiar and 
cultivated since somewhere about 1596, inside the higher walled 
garden of a man's inner poetry, whether by a Cowper or any one 
else. It was too early perhaps even for the admission of lilac. Labur- 
num, yes, in art of description, poetry of description; but in the heart, 
with the universal rose could one think of Blake replacing "rose" 
in O Rose, thou art sick\ with anything out of the new (taking "new" 
as all that had arrived within 200 years of his birth), out of the new 
flora of gardens? And yet, even if Blake passed through, and out 
beyond, simplicities of vision, could one say that "rose" in this poem 
was a formality, a word without the substance of the natural object, 
that Blake had never seen, nosed, and felt the flower of which the 
poem was made? 

O Rose, thou art sick! 
The Invisible worm 
That flies in the night, 
In the howling storm, 
79 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Has found out thy bed 
Of crimson joy, 
And his dark secret love 
Does thy life destroy. 

Rose, lily, and sunflower are the flowers in Songs of Experience; and 
of these sunflower had already its existence in painting and in poems. 
Laburnums are not for Blake; the more ambitious the poetry, the 
more primal it is, the less eccentric, though not the less varied, are 
the images. One thinks of Blake's imperative that painting, music 
and poetry exist and exult in immortal thoughts, for which, as I say, 
roses and not laburnums. 

The laburnum has never become more than a colour, an ornament, 
on the back of a lawn or on the edge of a poem. It has a sharpness of 
tint and, when not in flower, an ordinariness of growth which prevent 
much human emotion collecting around it. Far more successful, 
though long resisted, carrying far more emotion, is the horse-chest- 
nut. Horse-chestnuts have had to combat a name suggestive of the 
inferior. Though they can be grown in England from their own 
seed, though they are hardy, they are still alien. And, liking them as 
we do, flower, leaf, fruit, solitary and along avenues, we feel them 
to be aliens; who have had no history, collected no fable, are contemp- 
tuously named, produce soft timber; and are recommended only by 
their own features. Introduced in the sixteenth century, horse-chest- 
nuts were common through England before 1700. Big, branchy, 
quick growing, and with flowers, they were liked by gardeners 
and gentlemen; but to be liked is not to be an "object of beauty", 
is not to leave a gentleman's park, and be transplanted in the 
side, or central, walks of poetry, or across a frame into a picture. 
No-one could imagine Wilson, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Stubbs, or 
Smart, or Fuseli, or Blake having truck with a horse-chestnut. 

Gilpin, who had sharp eyes with which he was early to detect the 
excellences of lichen and moss and the curling vitality of hops, 
could neither miss, nor miss out the horse-chestnut, when he came 
to "methodize" his picturesque observations upon trees in Remarks 
on Forest Scenery, which he published in 1791 (but had written some 
ten years before). In considering trees as single objects, he found the 
horse-chestnut (and it is often true) "a heavy, disagreeable tree". 
It was not fitted for pictures: "it forms its foliage generally in a round 
mass, with little appearance of those breaks, which we have so often 
admired, and which contribute to give airiness and lightness, at least 
a richness and variety, to the whole mass of foliage. This tree is 

80 



HORSE-CHESTNUT TREES 

however, chiefly admired for its flower, which in itself is beautiful: 
but the whole tree together in flower, is a glaring object, totally" he 
could not say more "totally unharmonious and unpicturesque". 
Other comments echo or amplify Gilpin. 1 Here, for example, forty 
years on, in 1822, is Jacob Strutt, in Sylva Britannica, or Portraits of 
Forest Trees: "To the painter the magnificence of its stature, and the 
beauty of its broad, palmated leaves, and long pendent spikes of 
flowers" why "pendent"? scarcely atone for the exceeding regu- 
larity of its form, terminating, as it invariably does, when left to the 
hand of nature, in an exact parabols." The horse-chestnut is still an 
outsider, outside the frame. London in his Arboretum, in 1838, has 
to pass no aesthetic judgment on the tree, but his account is tinted 
with dislike; and it is instructive to read him on the scantiness of the 
horse-chestnut's "Poetical and Legendary Allusions". He finds a 
few French lines on horse-chestnuts in the Luxembourg; but the 
tree is not quite proper: "Some authors have compared it to an 
immense lustre or chandelier, its long racemes of flowers tapering up 
from its drooping foliage like lights. A Horse Chestnut tree, in full 
flower, has been called by Daines Barrington a giant's nosegay, and 
in the Magazine of Natural History Vol. IV, page 238, an eloquent 
description of this tree has been given by Mr. Dovaston, who com- 
pares its racemes of flowers to those of a gigantic hyacinth. Miss 
Kent, in the same work, Vol. Ill, page 135, calls it a Brobdingnagian 
lupine. . . . The manner in which it scatters its flowers on the grass, 
and the comparative uselessness of its fruit and timber, make it an 
excellent emblem of ostentation." 

Already eyes which opened into more creative souls were seeing 
the horse-chestnut differently; and by 1856, for Ruskin, in the 
fourteenth chapter of his third volume of Modern Painters, the horse- 
chestnut has become, no longer "totally unharmonious and un- 
creative", but "one of the crowned and lovely trees of the earth" 
(just as he celebrated lichens, rustici pauperrimi to Linnaeus, as "the 
most honoured of the earth-children", with harmonies of colour 
"better than Titian's"). 

How does one explain this reversal? Enmity to the horse-chestnut 
had been partly due to association, partly to the fact that romanticism 
had needed no particular objects for picturing desires of the individual 
soul. Gilpin had found the sweet-chestnut with justice, in a valid 

1 Archibald Alison, in his popular Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste 
(1790), was kinder to the horse-chestnut. It was a * Beautiful* ' tree: "The Char- 
acter ... of the weeping-willow, is melancholy, of the birch and of the aspin, gaiety: 
the character of the horse-chestnut, is solemnity, of the oak, majesty, of the yew, 
sadness." But Alison's "solemnity* ' was interfered with by the tree's lack of other 
associations. 

D 81 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

comparison "a noble tree". But then, he went on, the sweet- 
chestnut is "the tree which graces the landscape of Salvator Rosa". 
The sweet-chestnut had acquired a classical passport from literature, 
a sublime passport from painting; while the horse-chestnut had 
flowered away in obscurity, to the blind eyes of Moslems, in the 
mountains of Bulgaria and northern Greece. One forgets (it was his 
strength) how much a part Wordsworth was of the eighteenth cen- 
tury. He had eyes, he was not always writing the innermost poetry, 
he knew the horse-chestnut. But search through his poems: not a 
horse-chestnut will be found in one of them. It was neither wild, nor 
simple, nor authorized. Sweet-chestnuts there are in Wordsworth, 
plenty of them, authorized by their cultural history and their classical 
aura. They were acceptable for reference. In painting, in plates 
illustrative of the culture of trees, the horse-chestnut was de- 
scribed; but it is curious, it is a revelation of attitudes, to observe 
how unlike the horse-chestnut these descriptions in line very often 
were. Strutt may talk of its flowers, and its broad, palmated leaves; 
but his etching of the horse-chestnut has no form of leaf or flower, 
no character of the tree: it cannot be accepted as a horse-chestnut at 
all, to our post-Preraphaelite eyes. I have not seen John Martin's 
horse-chestnut in his rare Characters of Trees (1817); but I should be 
surprised (remembering also Wilkie's comment on his inability to 
paint a great toe from the life) if it were much nearer reality than the 
Arboretum plate by George Lewis, an artist more cleanly and closely 
responsive to natural objects; and Lewis's plate is no more a horse- 
chestnut than Strutt's. I know of a recognizable horse-chestnut 
just recognizable in a conversation picture by Arthur Devis, just 
as there are Lombardy poplars in garden-pieces painted before 1800. 
But that cannot really be called leaving the garden or the park. 

For poets and painters born within the eighteenth century, one 
can, in fact, stigmatize this Brobdingriagian lupin as, lacking in 
ideality, lacking in associations, too regular in mass and too decided 
in detail; a foreign body, unconnected with Druids, ruins, the Middle 
Ages, or the passions (wherein it differed from the exotic Upas); a 
mere gardener's ornament. 1 

Who, then, were the first painters and poets who admired the 
horse-chestnut, who reversed Gilpin's contempt, and prepared for 
Ruskin's "one of the crowned and lovely trees of the earth"? So 

1 And at that, one which had been planted, too much planted in the Versailles 
manner in avenues and straight lines. "It seems to have been as much the fashion of 
the present century to destroy avenues as it was in the last to plant them" 
Humphry Repton, in Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, 1794. The 
straight line, as Repton says, was out of fashion in the new dedication to nature. 

82 



HORSE-CHESTNUT TREES 

far as I know, Samuel Palmer, John Clare and Tennyson. What 
might be called the first pure horse-chestnut drawing I believe to be 
Samuel Palmer's pastoral in sepia, "The Skirts of a Wood", which 
he designed when he was twenty, in 1825; the artist, as so often hap- 
pens, preceding the poet in the appropriation of new materials. This 
1825 horse-chestnut is remarkable, because the design is actually 
based upon one of Blake's drawings for Dante. Blake's only tree, al- 
most (other than his semi-Upas Tree, his "accursed tree of mystery") 
was an oak, symbolizing Albion's deep-rooted and stubborn errors, 
the errors of mankind within their Mundane Shell; and Palmer's 
landscape agreed with Blake in seeking the spirit through the forms of 
matter, if not beyond them. Palmer obeyed Fuseli, and had a horror 
of "the last branch of uninteresting subjects, that kind of landscape 
which is entirely occupied with the tame delineation of a given spot". 
"We tread," in Palmer's landscape, "on classic or romantic ground, or 
wander through the characteristic groups of rich congenial objects." 
Yet when Palmer was twenty, when he was most under the magic of 
Fuseli and Blake, he drew his sheep and his piping shepherd under a 
horse-chestnut tree, under the alien without associations, because 
there were horse-chestnut trees, there, actually before his eyes at 
Shoreham, because he was free enough to feel, with few but Alison 
to support him, that horse-chestnuts were solemn. And his horse- 
chestnut is a real horse-chestnut: it lives, it is formalized with chest- 
nut-fans as precisely "of seven leaves, the middle-largest, diminish- 
ing towards the stalk, so that those nearest the stalk are smallest", as 
in Gerard Hopkins 's Platonic Dialogue on the Origin of Beauty, some 
forty years on. There are at least two other early Palmers in which 
the horse-chestnut is a main object: and in one of them, "A Hilly 
Scene", the chestnuts are forced into congruence with Palmer's, and 
the age's, mediaevalism, are formed into a Gothic arch around the 
picture, involving a crescent moon their leaves and erect blossoms; 
and the chestnuts rise out of the oldest and most respectable symbol 
of fertility, from heavy, golden-eared corn, a field of orient wheat. 
These designs mark a divide between association and the ideal, one 
way, and the object as the true thing in nature, the other way 
whether the object is Holman Hunt's scapegoat in the chemicals 
of the Dead Sea, or Elizabeth Siddal in the bath as Ophelia. It is the 
divide between romance as the expression of self, and that fidelity 
to nature witlessly represented by Ruskin in his order to landscape 
painters, that they must learn geology. 

Clare, an older man by a good many years than either Palmer or 
Tennyson, often refers to the horse-chestnut, though not with the 

83 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

passion that he keeps for the flaming of celandine or primrose or the 
white sheets of hawthorn. The trees are there, but association still 
keeps them from being too forward. Tennyson's horse-chestnuts are 
not in so remarkable a setting as Palmer's, but they are more parti- 
cular than Clare's, and there are plenty of them. There is no ideal, 
and Palmer's shepherd or shepherdess has given way to a miller's 
daughter: 

.... Those three Chestnuts near, that hung 
In masses thick with milky cones. 

(The Miller's Daughter, 1833) 

And although horse-chestnuts were foreign bodies, although they 
did not get to England till the end of the sixteenth century, yet they 
could, with Tennyson, in 1842, spread round the dearest mediaeval 
inhabitants of English romance: 

And drooping Chestnut buds began 
To spread into the perfect fan. 

(Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere). 

Palmer saw the whole tree, Tennyson, one of the painters in words 
peculiar to the nineteenth century, typically saw the parts and the 
details, like an investigating lens. 1 

With Ruskin to come along less an originator, than one who put 
already felt things into prose order it meant that at last the picture 
frame and the painter's eye, and the poet's, were getting wide open 
to the tree; and perhaps closing to many of the adjuncts of the deepest, 
inmost art. For the Preraphaelite horse-chestnut is something 
literal, for a literal art, an art of pathos rather than immortality; an 
ornament, for art, as it was and had been for the garden. There are 
Preraphaelite chestnuts everywhere, in known, in less known work 
for instance, in Coventry Patmore's Angel in the House, on a Sunday 
morning, before going to church: 

In sleep the matrimonial dove 

Was crooning; no wind waked the wood, 

Nor moved the midnight river-damps, 
Nor thrill'd the poplar; quiet stood 

The chestnut with its thousand lamps 

in A. B. Houghton's finely organized drawings engraved on the wood 
for Home Thoughts and Home Scenes (1865), or in H. A. Bowler's 
sententious pathetic painting of "The Doubt (can These Dry Bones 

1 See p. 117. 

84 



HORSE-CHESTNUT TREES 

Live)", exhibited in 1855, in which a young woman leans on a 
tombstone looking down at a skull (on which a blue butterfly has 
perched) and the remnants of a skeleton, while the palmate leaves of 
the chestnut catch the light above and round her head. These 
mid-nineteenth century years of accuracy were the years in which 
the scientist could no longer trust the mere artist to delineate 
forms and in which Henry Bradbury devised accordingly his method 
of the nature-printing of ferns and sea- weeds, which " represents not 
only the general form . . . with absolute accuracy, but also the 
veins, and the nature of the surface, the hairs, and other minutiae 
of superficial structure by which they are known" 1 the years soon 
of ornament and pattern and design, the thinnest of art, of Burne 
Jones, the Art Workers' Guild, and denial of growth and spirit. 
Look at such a book as Art Studies from Nature, as applied to Design 
(1872), in which naturalists and scientists co-operate to make 
a moral use in design of Lords-and-Ladies, snow-crystals, sea- 
weeds, and fossils. Look for the end, for the dim and thin finale, 
in book cover designs by Sturge Moore, chestnuts in flower on a 
1911 tram poster enticing one to Hampton Court; or in A. E. Hous- 
man's unreal, unfelt chestnut lighting its flambeaux. 

So do the ways of seeing, realizing, and using one, single object 
change within a hundred and fifty years. 

1 Preface to the Quarto edition, Nature-Printed Ferns, 1859. 



85 



8 

THE PRERAPHAELITE MYTH 

AR E we to limit Preraphaelitism to the Preraphaelites, to the 
actual members, that is, of the P.R.B.; and if we do, can we 
say that there was such a thing as a Preraphaelite Tragedy, 
the name which Mr. William Gaunt has given to the latest book on 
this area of English art? 1 Was there in the Preraphaelites a great 
power of talent, tragically a flabby and vulgar adverb tragically 
frittered away through weakness before circumstance and before 
strength of social development? Did they make a " revolution* ', and 
then betray it? Are there Preraphaelite master-paintings, or only the 
seedlings of such a master-art, arrested and etiolated? 

Or were those original Preraphaelites men of a remarkable and 
talented self-importance, who managed to surround themselves, for 
posterity, with a set of gigantic magnifying-glasses? What would 
happen if we took a frank, and honest, and intimate look over the 
rim, over those lenses of self-esteem? What would happen if we set 
the Preraphaelites, with their contemporaries, and their fellow 
travellers, all in a natural and undistorted and impartial focus, if we 
took an inclusive view? 

None of these questions can be answered easily. To be certain in 
one's answers, one would need to be able to estimate English painting 
between, say, the 1848 of Millais' Lorenzo and Isabella, and the 1860 
of Dyce'sPegzuellBay. One would need to be sure about the painting 
attached to certain names Dyce, for one, Augustus Leopold Egg, 
for another; and John Brett, and James Smetham, and Richard 
Burchett, and W. L. Windus, and John Lewis, and R. B. Martineau. 
To be certain would mean years of penetration into private houses, 
into provincial galleries, and into a hazy and hardly documented past. 
Distracting the investigator at each cautious pace is the "glittering 
magnify ing-glass" of the P.R.B.; warning one off are those massive 
volumes Holman Hunt's autobiography, Pre-Raphaelitism and the 
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, The Life and Letters of Sir John Millais, 
and the many chronicles edited by William Michael Rossetti in 
which the P. R. brethren, or their next-of-kin, cried their own goods, 
and their own good ideals; and then behind these loud-speakers, 
endlessly stream lesser voices, pro and con. of which the latest is the 

1 The Preraphaelite Tragedy, 1942. 

86 



THE PRER APR AEL ITE MYTH 

voice of Mr. Gaunt. The effect of all this noise is to induce belief 
that mid-nineteenth century art in England was the P.R.B., was, 
in definition even more defined, Holman Hunt and Sir John Millais, 
with the uncertain allegiance of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. On the 
fringe, Ford Madox Brown; but Brown, Holman Hunt was careful 
to say, was never invited to belong. And not only, is it to be inferred 
from their books, was all English art of significance their art; but they, 
the Preraphaelites, invented it. There was no descent, no tree, there 
were no visible parents, there was not even an act of artificial in- 
semination: there was simply an invention, almost in vacuo. Respect 
for predecessors, but not very detailed respect, is about as much 
ancestorship as Preraphaelite chroniclers allow. The critical point is, 
really, what the Preraphaelites thought, and said, about Nature. 
Here are some texts: 

"A child-like reversion from existing schools to Nature herself." 

"Our original doctrine of child-like submission to Nature." 

(Holman Hunt). 

"The Pre-Raphaelites had but one idea to present on canvas 
what they saw in Nature." 

(Sir John Millais). 

"Millais said that he had thoughts of painting a hedge (as a 
subject) to the closest point of imitation, with a bird's nest a 
thing which has never been attempted. Another subject he has in 
his eye is a river-sparrow's nest, built, as he says they are, between 
the reeds; the bird he describes as with its head always on one side, 
'a body like a ball, and thin legs like needles'." 

(P.R.B. Journal, kept by W.M. Rossetti, 
May 23, 1849). 

Even Rossetti "even" because Rossetti and Nature in this detail 
were never very closely acquainted even Rossetti, in prefacing The 
Germ, wrote that: "The endeavour held in view throughout the 
writings on art will be to encourage and enforce an entire adherence 
to the simplicity of nature." 

There is no doubt that this attention to nature they held to be one 
of their peculiar virtues, and one of their peculiar discoveries. And 
they are still being given credit in their own valuation. Yet before 
the P.R.B. was ever formed, nature had had a long, slowly changing 
history in English art; something of which I have tried to trace in 
this book in earlier essays. Concurrently there had been the develop- 

87 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

ment of the two attitudes towards nature, the attitude of seeing 
through it, and by means of it, towards the divine, and the attitude of 
expressing one's own feelings by projecting them into nature. Con- 
stable is a convenient man to consider, midway between Blake and 
the P.R.B. Nature certainly reflects back to him his own feelings. 
He is a shade nearer to the naturalism of the reed warbler's nest than 
to religious naturalism, that naturalism fostered in many English 
romantic painters and poets by among other things, the mystical 
writings of Jakob Boehme. Everything on earth could be admired by 
a mystical naturalist as the shadow of its original in Paradise. Yet 
even the commonsense Constable, preferring " drawing" to " inspira- 
tion", was not, in his own way, unaffected by that mysticism. When 
Constable tells a woman he had never seen an ugly thing in his life 
that there was nothing ugly in nature he is rationalizing that 
mystical view of the beauty of things terrestial. He finds a new 
reason. Things can never be ugly, he says, because . . . "let the form 
of an object be what it may, light and shade and perspective will 
always make it beautiful". Or take something else in Constable: take 
his love of the sparkle and dewy freshness of nature. It is Constable's 
version of the sparkle, the glitter, which may begin inside the grotto 
of the mind of Alexander Pope, but which became the earth gleam 
foreshadowing the gleam of Paradise the glitter possessed by 
eighteenth century religious poets such as Smart and Cowper; to 
which is certainly related the sparkle on a silk dress by Gains- 
borough or the shimmer of colours in many canvasses by Reynolds. 
Constable's Paradise is an earthly one within the bounds of Con- 
stable himself. When those French critics in 1824 called Constable's 
pictures mere nothings, melodious nothings like the sound the wind 
draws from the Harp of Aeolus, Constable was pleased. He hadn't 
any thought (any more than his French critics had any thought) of 
Aeolian Harp music imaging the music of Paradise; or of being more 
by this time than just the voice of nature, which is what Constable 
believed his pictures to be. The nature was, in fact, nature created 
by the mind of Constable. But that was no matter. And the process 
now visible with the P.R.B. and not, of course, only visible in art 
was the isolation of nature both from the self and the divine. That 
was the nature to which the P.R.B. made their original child-like 
submission, nature which now begins to need a capital N. And from 
this submission to Nature, goodness is now isolated as morality. 
Worship slips into submission, and submission involves a moral and 
rather witless belief in "scientific" accuracy in reproducing nature. 
Mystery, too, separates from the determinate mystery of God into a 



THE P RE R AP H AE L I TE MYTH 

belief, also rather witless, in truth to mystery. What happens now 
to the emotive colour of Blake, or Gainsborough, or Reynolds? 
Rubens must now be reproved for not seeing a rainbow in spectros- 
copic accuracy, and not painting it right; and a nonentity must be 
praised for succeeding with rainbows where Rubens failed. The 
scientific colour interests of Goethe had made him compile his Theory 
of Colours: now you get his book (which Turner found himself read- 
ing in his old age) translated for artists by an artist Sir Charles 
Eastlake. Now artists are to be found "wishing to substitute simple 
imitation for scenic effectiveness, and purity of natural colour for 
scholastic depth of tone". (Ford Madox Brown). Now purple comes 
into pictures because it is the purple of sunset true to natural facts 
(I should like to know three dates the date of the first painting of 
purple heather on Dartmoor, the date of the first purple altar-cloths, 
the date of the first purple aubretia and fat purple rhododendron). 
Now come the hot, hard colours of the copper bowl in which the 
Peter of Ford Madox Brown washes the feet of Christ, and the dis- 
grace of his turnips which "were all false in colour", and the fire- 
light in Waiting which was too red for the old dealer. Now rhap- 
sodists and painters and poets are less imaginative than Sir Hum- 
phrey Davy, the scientist, had been, when some thirty years before 
he watched the glittering particles of potassium breaking through the 
potash crust in an act of birth; the scientist who watched the moon 
above an abbey sailing through the dark blue sky and felt such a 
sympathy with nature that he "would have felt pain in tearing a leaf 
from one of the trees". Now Ruskin writes grandly of light upon 
Swiss glaciers, but turns round through all his long yes, his long 
purple passage, and asks: "Did Claude give this?" And now the 
Preraphaelites are born, and think themselves altogether independent 
of the movement of the age, of all other artists who had seen nature 
about Bayswater and Hampstead and in Wales. If they discovered 
anything new about nature, or discovered a new nature, it was to their 
discredit, except in so far that they were victims of their time. 

The Preraphaelites make, by the way, some interesting small slips 
of ingenuous admission. Did no one welcome their attentiveness 
upon nature? In 1851 Millais casually, we are told by Holman Hunt, 
meets John Lewis, back after seven years in Egypt, and finding the 
only hope of English art in the Preraphaelite "reform". Lewis to 
Millais: "I am sure that oil painting could be made more delicate than 
either of you make it; not sufficient pains are taken to make the sur- 
face absolutely level." Who else welcomed the paintings of the 
Brotherhood? Other "naturalists" of an older and better attitude to 

D* 89 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

nature old Mulready, and Linnell. Who else was attentive to 
Nature? Ruskin: "I have bought the third volume of Modern 
Painters, and mean to read it with the slowness, iteration, and thought 
which it deserves. I have glanced at the chapter on * Finish', and I 
see the exquisite definition of it: 'added fact*. How clear, how true! 
Finish, from first to last added fact. How this leads to the great 
principle, study nature." (James Smetham). But princes of the Pre- 
raphaelite blood carefully say, Ruskin didn't think of it first; which 
was true, but they also were not first. Who else insisted upon finish 
and workmanship? Coventry Patmore, who attended P.R.B. meet- 
ings, and insisted "strongly on the necessity of never leaving a poem 
till the whole of it be brought to a pitch of excellence perfectly satis- 
factory ". (P.R.B. Journal, 7th November, 1849). Who sent Holman 
Hunt and Rossetti to see the brilliant colours and " Godlike com- 
pleteness" of the Memlings at Bruges, and also the Van Eycks, 
paintings which have more to do with Preraphaelite peculiarities 
than any Italian painters before Raphael? Augustus Egg; who also 
backed them, and found a purchaser for Hunt's Rienzi. Who else 
went to such an un- Italian source of finish and minuteness? Their 
semi-Preraphaelite friend, Ford Madox Brown, who found no better 
way of leading himself to simple imitation and pure natural colour 
"than to paint what I called a Holbein of the nineteenth century". 

The Brethren, these very English Victorian brethren, illustrate, 
too, the big hold of morality and the separation of morality and 
emotion. William Michael Rossetti and Holman Hunt both, after 
the event, become uneasy about any unqualified identification of the 
P.R.B. with truth to Nature: 

"I will . . . take it upon me to say that the bond of union among 
the members of the Brotherhood was really and simply this 1. To 
have genuine ideas to express; 2. To study Nature attentively, so 
as to know how to express them; 3. To sympathize with what is 
direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of 
what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote; and 
4, and most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good 
pictures and statues." (William Michael Rossetti). 

Holman Hunt lets us into the odd story of Millais doing a bit of 
nature, and then, upon Hunt's criticism, searching hard for a moral 
idea to tack the nature on to. The nature, to begin with, was a piece 
of illustration: "Two lovers whispering by a garden wall", from 
Tennyson's Circumstance. For Hunt two lovers were not enough: 
"I should have liked you to be engaged on a picture with the dramatis 

90 



THE PRERAPHA ELITE MYTH 

personae actuated by generous thought of a larger world." Millais 
saw designs for The Light of the World, coupled with drawings of a 
subject from the War of the Roses, in which a Red Rose lady is being 
persuaded by a White Rose lover to flee with him; but "she is to be 
represented as hesitating between love and duty". And so Millais 
comes to The Huguenots\ the simple lovers change into lovers to be 
separated by religion and his first idea was "two priests holding up 
the crucifix to the Huguenot, whose sweetheart likewise adds her 
persuasions'*. 

Also a priest on either side of the lovers "holding up one of the 
great candles of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Protestant 
waving them back with a gesture of disapproval". But, in the end, 
"the artist wisely trusted to the simplicity of the pathos". 

This story is worth retelling because it illustrates the Preraphaelite 
weakness of grafting idea and moral aim on to illumination. "I am 
nightly working my brains for a subject. Some incident to illustrate 
patience I have a desire to paint." (Millais to his patron, Mrs. 
Combe, 1851). Millais, in the same year, wrote to the same corres- 
pondent of "turning the minds of men to good reflections and so 
heightening the profession as one of unworldly usefulness to man- 
kind". He went on: "This is our great object in painting, for the 
thought of simply pleasing the senses would drive us to other pursuits 
requiring less of that unceasing attention so necessary to the com- 
pletion of a perfect work." There plain moral self-delusion; self- 
delusion, to be kind, and not humbug. For what works by Millais 
have for us still, a moving, immediate power? Lorenzo and Isabella, 
or The Carpenter's Shop? No. Ophelia or The Blind Girtt No. But 
the early painting of the grandfather and child; and then, I think, 
mainly the amazing sharp toed, thin waisted, sharp breasted drawings 
the so-called "Preraphaelite Drawing" for Apple Blossoms, of 1850; 
the drawing of the Lovers by the Wall (1851); the design for Romeo and 
Juliet (1852); and the amazing series of 1853, the year in which 
Millais fell in love with Ruskin's wife. There they are, The Dying 
Man, The Race Meeting, The Blind Man, The Romans Leaving Britain 
the kissing angels in the psychopathic Design for a Gothic Window, 
Rejected; and above all the sexual excitement and realism and sharp 
loveliness of its companion piece, Accepted, the man on his knees, 
the moulded arms, the profile, the breast coming from the frock, all 
lighted from the drawing-room, where, beyond the lawn-roller, the 
men in tails prance with women in full skirts. Then comes the 
wedding, after Ruskin's marriage is declared null; and then, passion 
satisfied, the inane descent towards Bubbles and 46,000 a year. That 

91 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

the Preraphaelites valued moral and spiritual ideas as an important 
section of the ideas germane to fine art is most true, and not one of them 
was in the least inclined to do any work of a gross, lascivious, or sensual 
description. (William Michael Rossetti). 

Holman Hunt would be worth wondering about, historically at 
least; but he strikes me as the most self-inflated, self-magnified of all 
the Preraphaelites. Sensuality gave Millais a short use for all his 
gifts, turned for a time the emptiness of nature observation into 
something real, erotic and captivating. Hunt had, to my eye, no such 
gifts, and ran painfully through a fire-mist of religion (Coventry 
Patmore's term for comparing the religious verse of Herbert's time 
with nineteenth century hymns), stretching out with his religious 
butterfly net, stretching valiantly out after ideas of religious banality. 
To his credit are a few landscapes and drawings. 

Ford Madox Brown he was of the time, not of the Brotherhood. 
He, indeed, felt the language of form in Pretty Baa Lambs, Walt on on 
the Naze, An English Autumn Afternoon, in Take Your Son, Sir, and 
The Last of England. He, indeed, did something to overcome his 
faithfulness to the colours of nature by his other qualities of vision. 
His drawings are scarcely those often delicious flashes of illumination 
which were not produced alone among the Preraphaelites by Millais, 
those ill-fated seedlings which grew up so seldom into pictures; and 
Brown, as well, hunts after the idea, the moral notion. Could anyone 
translate Work without his gloss: " . . . the couple on horseback in 
the middle distance consists of a gentleman, still young, and his 
daughter . . . This gentleman, is evidently very rich, probably a 
colonel in the army, with a seat in Parliament, and fifteen thousand a 
year and a pack of hounds ... he looks to me an honest, truehearted 
gentleman (he was painted from one I know) and could he only be 
got to hear what the two sages in the corner have to say, I have no 
doubt he would be easily won over. But the road is blocked, and the 
daughter says, we must go back, papa, round the other way/' 
Holman Hunt's Light of the World needs a little interpreting as well. 
The crown of the universe is interwoven into the crown of thorns 
"which has become fair and blossoming". The robe is seamless and 
purest. The regal mantle is "exquisitely embroidered with millions of 
jewels, i.e. His people", clasped by the Jewish Urim and Thummin 
on one side, on the other by a jewelled ornament "typical of the 
Gentile world, both being united by a cross". The Lamp symbolizes 
the Word, the patterns of its seven sides are "emblematical of the 
diversities of opinions" among Christians, who "are after all united 

92 



THE PRER AP H AEL ITE MYTH 

in one glorious head"; the light inside is "of exactly the same inten- 
sity as the halo of glory" round Christ's head, i.e. "its source is un- 
mistakeably indicated"; its beams fall on the door, which is the 
sinner's heart (hemlock, nightshade, hinges and nails red with rust). 
A bat "emblem of ignorance, aroused by the unusual sound" [of the 
knock] "and the dazzling light, at last quits its shelter beneath the 
dark lintel, for it can find no more rest there". 

Could anyone, without Madox Brown's note, contrive or trouble, 
from the physical paint, to work out his acrostic of brawny labour 
and the torn-up road separating the rich man and his child from the 
figures of Carlyle and F. D. Maurice, the brain workers? Could any- 
one, without instruction, contrive or trouble to work out Holman 
Hunt's iconography? Brown shared the taste Holman Hunt ascribed 
to the near Preraphaelite, Walter Deverell "the prevailing taste 
among the young of that day, which Carlyle had inaugurated and 
Charles Kingsley had accentuated, of dwelling on the miseries of the 
poor, the friendless and the fallen". This leaning touched them all. 
But dwelling on the miseries and giving charity partake of the inane 
of natural observation as an end, of application to the detail, and not 
vision into the cause. In 1847, the high year of the P.R.B., Herman 
Melville's Redburn was published; and there, and in nothing written 
and painted even in the sensual moments of a Victorian moralist, is 
vision, through the dockside slums of Liverpool, where Melville saw 
the corpse of the sailor still and stark in the deadhouse, and saw 
every man his own headstone the name and the date of his birth 
tattoed upon his arm. Melville saw into London, in the opulent 
restaurant of variegated marbles, with the proprietor, florid and 
white-haired, "like an almond tree in blossom", in his rich mahogany 
cage; the restaurant which "echoed to the tread, as if all the Paris 
catacombs were underneath" the sound "sighing with a subter- 
raneous despair, through all the magnificent spectacle around me; 
mocking it, where most it glared". Who can imagine a Preraphaelite 
saying "The Godhead is broken like bread. We are the pieces", 
imagine a Preraphaelite "who against the proud Gods and com- 
modores of this earth, ever stands forth his inexorable self"? They 
were mostly compromisers and cowards, concealing their material- 
ism in a mist of pseudo-spiritual morality, scared of looking at their 
own souls in sulphur-light. 

But Rossetti? I have kept him to last. For Rossetti is the man true 
to mystery. He is not inanely true to nature. His Brethren tried to 
plant him among the leaves. Millais: "Last year when I went to 
Knole, I prevailed upon him to come and paint a landscape back- 

93 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

ground. I hoped the study this would give him would purify his 
conception of conventionalism, but in a few days he proved how little 
patience he had for any teaching but that seasoned by previous cus- 
tom." Millais: "His drawings were always remarkably interesting, 
but I wanted to see in them a freshness, the sign of enjoyment of 
Nature direct, instead of quaintness derived from the works of past 
men/' And read also Ruskin's prim, wine-dealing, well-dressed, 
well-to-do patron's letters about going down to Wales to do a little 
drawing from nature, that correspondence which began "if I were 
to find funds, would you be ready on Wednesday morning to take a 
run into Wales, and make me a sketch of some rocks in the bed of a 
stream, with trees above, mountain ashes, and so on, scarlet in 
autumn tints "? and which ended "Dear Rossetti, You are a very 
odd creature, that's a fact. I said I would find funds for you to go 
into Wales to draw something I wanted. I never said I would for you 
to go to Paris . . ." (Ruskin-Rossetti-Preraphaelitism, ed. W. M. Ros- 
setti, 1899). 

Rossetti was not true, either, to morality. The early religious 
Rossetti is not himself. His brother indeed declared thai his early 
sonnet on St. Luke the Painter was a correct index to him: 

. . . but soon having wist 

How sky-breadth and field-silence and this day 
Are symbols also in some deeper way, 
She looked through these to God and was God's priest. 

Some unspecified deeper way; and God is another name for mystery. 
Ford Madox Ford, in his excellent small book on Rossetti (that and 
his book in the same series, The Preraphaelite Brotherhood, surpass 
everything else on the matter), gave as his index the sonnet Dantis 
Tenebrae: 

Accepting me to be of those that haunt 

The vale of magical dark mysteries . . . 

That was more truthful. And Rossetti was much the most frank 
about the things the magic and the mysteries that he admired. 
Here are some of them, as a reniinder: The mysterious Bible illus- 
trations of Isaac Taylor (well worth looking up, but the British 
Museum set is incomplete); John Martin; Blake (the Mystery and the 
Emotive Colour, that was enough); the work, not so easy to see, of 
von Hoist, a late follower of Fuseli, and a cross, according to Bell 
Scott, between Fuseli and Retsch (some subjects by von Hoist: 

94 



THE P RER APH AEL I TE MYTH 

Two Students Gazing at the Clock of Eternity] Sir Reginald Front de 
Boeuf ordering the Saracen slaves of the Templar to seize and throw on 
the flames the Jew, Isaac of York; Satan and the Virgin Mary dancing 
on the Edge of the World); Danby (admired also by Brown and Smet- 
ham), that poet-artist who as we have seen, admired nature but 
held the mind to be a diamond in the lead setting of the body, which 
it helped to destroy by "its very hardness and durability". In 
Paris (1849-50), Rossetti admired Delacroix (Holman Hunt did not), 
and Gericault's Shipwreck. Holman Hunt says that Rossetti despised 
science "what could it matter, he said, whether the earth moved 
round the sun or the sun circled about the earth, and in the question 
of the antiquity of man and his origin he refused to be interested". 

There is the man. "Quaintness derived from the works of past 
men" well, Millais was not far from exactitude. Rossetti earns more 
sympathy and more respect than Hunt or Millais. Mystery, how- 
ever mysterious, induces a better understanding of how a picture is 
made than watching nature or chasing morals. "Your work," Ros- 
setti w T rote to James Smetham, "is of the kind that I really enjoy, 
because you have always an idea at the heart of it." Not on the 
fringe of it. But sift him through, sift Rossetti's designs, sift his 
poems; and the few which do not pass through like coloured dust are 
those in which his mystery and derived quaintness have, after all, 
caught a touch of his unwilling attentiveness to nature. Poems: his 
fragment on the merciless woman with eyes in her breasts, The 
Woodspurge, and a few others. Drawings: a few such as Design for a 
Ballad, drawings of his wife, designs for the Moxon Tennyson, and 
Tennyson himself reading Maud. Rossetti is in some ways the last 
twitter of Allingham's Aeolian Harp, the Aeolian Harp poems in that 
first book which the Preraphaelites illustrated: 

What saith the river to the rushes grey, 
Rushes sadly bending, 
River slowly wending? 
Who can tell the whisper'd things they say? 
Youth, and prime, and life, and time, 
For ever, ever fled away. 

Drop your wither'd garlands in the stream, 
Low autumnal branches, 
Round the skiff that launches, 
Wavering downward through the land of dream. 

Ever, ever fled away! 
This the burden, this the theme. 
95 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

A wonderful man to know; but not to remember, and with more 
books to his memory than he deserves. 

Mr. William Gaunt, to revert to the magnifying glasses round the 
P.R.B., has only shifted the point from which he looks through those 
glasses. The P.R.'s are a "tragedy" the big flabby word the 
tragedy, he maintains, of the whole period, idealists against material- 
ism; but he would have written a more valuable, if less smart, less 
library-circulating book, if he had weighed the ideals and the ex- 
pression more critically, if he didn't assure us that in 1843 (by which 
time our Romanticism was dead) "The Romantics of literature and 
architecture had begun their protest against the formal and classic 
culture of which the Royal Academy was the off-shoot." 

One last consideration. What about other men of the forties and 
fifties, what about the inclusive view? For no artists in England have 
trumpets ever been so loudly sounded on this side as for the major 
Preraphaelites. For no other artists have letters been so well pre- 
served, stories so thoroughly collected, lives so lengthily compiled. 
But only for the major Preraphaelites. What was the real stature of 
Collins, Deverell, Arthur Hughes, Martineau? They are cautious 
and stingy with facts. Can an estimate be made of Windus and 
Brett, Egg how many pictures by the major Brethren surpass the 
drawing and design of Egg's series in the Tate of "Past and Present"? 
Can we be sure about Dyce, and Egley, and Henry Wallis, who 
painted the apt and symbolic "Death of Chatterton"? How is it that 
Henry Wallis has been given no entry even, in the latest supplement 
of the Dictionary of National Biography^ (For the curious, to set be- 
side The Death of Chatterton, here is a piece of Henry Wallis's 
prose, from the days of his later connoisseurship, describing a 
Persian star-tile: "When regarded in a certain light, in which the 
shine of the glaze is not perceptible, the lustre pigment appears of a 
delicate fawn or raw-siena tint, admirably harmonizing with the blue 
and green. Alter the angle of vision ever so slightly, and the lustre 
flashes forth in amethyst and ruby, sapphire and emerald, so as to 
appear almost alive. The only substance to which it may be com- 
pared is the Labrador feslpar familiarly known as Pavement of 
Paradise, wherein seems to be reflected all the gorgeous effulgence of 
an oriental sunset. The lustre effect is nothing less than magical, and 
witnessing this startling transformation one is not surprised at the 
Persian belief in magic.") 

How is it that James Smetham is only a name, in spite of lavish 
praise of his pictures by Ruskin and Rossetti and Madox Brown, a 

96 



THE PRER APH AEL ITE MYTH 

name supported only by a book of letters, a book of his essays, and 
a Methodist pamphlet in red paper covers? Smetham deserves con- 
sideration all on his own. From seeing his etchings and some of his 
paintings still in his family, he must, I know, be enjoyed some time 
or another as an imaginative artist who surpasses almost all of his 
time in England. 

Who knows anything of Godfrey Sykes (1825-1866), beyond his 
architectural decorations for the Victoria and Albert Museum and 
his cover of the Cornhill Magazine, anything of his Sheffield work- 
shop interiors? 

How is it that we accept the P.R.B. silence and contempt and their 
dismissal of the Cyclographic Club? Burchett was a member. His 
lovely landscape of a cornfield by the sea, in the Victoria and Albert 
Museum, entirely proves that we should know more of his work. 
How do these things happen? One reason is that skilful organization 
of the memory of the P.R.B. that magnifying glass technique; 
another is, that writer after writer has been too unadventurous or too 
lazy to follow the clues littered about in the P.R.B. volumes. Here, 
as everywhere in English art, there are conventional valuations to be 
rejected, pictures to be unearthed, letters and papers to be saved, 
books to be published, exhibitions to be arranged. Here is a country 
of conjectural lines, like a globe in 1550, to be explored by a new 
generation of art historians, for geographical and real and negative 
treasures. Mr. Gaunt's book is like a mediaeval bestiary compiled 
from the best sources; but it is about the last Preraphaelite compila- 
tion that can be accepted in patience. 



97 



9 

WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 



RECOLLECTIONS we have of William Barnes are mainly of 
him as a middle-aged, old or dying man. Many of them are 
in the Life written by his daughter, Lucy Baxter, a book, 
so few were those who admired Barnes, which sold only 267 copies. 
William Allingham, Locker Lampson, Coventry Patmore, above 
all, and later on Edmund Gosse and Thomas Hardy all knew him; 
and his poems were read and felt and criticized by Patmore's friend, 
Gerard Hopkins. 

Gosse and Hardy went to see him not long before his death: "We 
found him in bed in his study, his face turned to the window, where 
the light came streaming in through flowering plants, his brown 
books on all sides of him save one, the wall behind him being hung 
with old green tapestry. He had a scarlet bedgown on, a kind of soft 
biretta of dark red wool on his head, from which his long white hair 
escaped on to the pillow; his grey beard, grown very long, upon his 
breast; his complexion, which you recollect ("you" is Coventry Pat- 
more) as richly bronzed, has become blanched by keeping indoors, 
and is now waxily white where it is not waxily pink; the blue eyes, 
half shut, restless under languid lids ... I wish I could paint for 
you the strange effect of this old, old man, lying in cardinal scarlet 
in his white bed . . ." 1 

Then, in the autumn, on llth October, 1886, there shot a flash 
from the sun on Barnes's coffin to Thomas Hardy watching his 
funeral (the funeral of the man who taught him the forms of poetry): 

Thus a farewell to me he signalled on his grave- way 
As with a wave of his hand 2 

Gosse *s description of Barnes, in scarlet, against white, shows him 
on his death-bed in one of those clear contrasts of colour which 

1 "An English Classic, William Barnes", by Coventiy Patmore, Fortnightly 
Review, Nov. 1886. Palgrave also desciibes him, a year befoie his death, his 
* 'finely cut face", his "hands fine like a girl's", adding "Titian or Tmtoret had no 
nobler, no more highborn looking sitter among the doges of Venice." From his 
diary, in Francis Turner Palgrave, by Gwenlhan Palgrave, 1899, p. 185. 

2 "The Last Signal: A Memory of William Barnes" in Collected Poems, 1923, 
p. 444. 

98 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

inform Barnes's poems from the very first up to the end. But before I 
discuss the way he saw, the way he felt, and the way he wrote and 
there is a disciplinary good to be had from Barnes as well as a great 
pleasure I would like to swing back from his documented decline 
to the little documented and less explored years in which he was 
formed. 

II 

" . . . I, the son of John and Grace Barnes, was born at Rush-hay, 
a farmling at Bagber in the Parish of Sturminster Newton in the Vale 
of Blackmore" and from there on, it is true, we know the skeleton 
of his life a Dame school, a period in the offices of a Sturminster 
and a Dorchester lawyer, learning of Latin and Greek and Italian, 
early poems, running a school of his own at Mere, study of French 
and Persian, marriage to a girl of considerable beauty and good 
sense, wood-engraving "I had from a love of Art, tried my graver 
on wood, quickened moreover by Bewick's works, and it was a day- 
dream of my youth that I might follow Art as my way of life" the 
shift to another school at Dorchester where he was "so lucky, as to 
have ... a friend who was a good Oriental scholar, Col. Besant, 
theretofore of the native Bengal Infantry, and author of the Persian 
and Urdu Letterwriter, with whom for some years I read a little 
Hindustani or Persian once almost every week". He kept his diary in 
Italian, and early on he visited Wales, explored Welsh poetry, and 
prosody, long in advance of Hopkins, "For the sake of British History 
and the old Bardic school of poetry, I have felt it well worth while to 
learn something of Welsh, for it seems to me that for a man to study 
the early British history of our land without Welsh is, as it were, to 
dig the earth with a sharp stick, instead of a spade, and I have been 
so lucky as to have Welsh friends who could read Welsh to me." 1 
He had a liking for archaeology. He had a turn for mechanical in- 
vention, and instrument making, and mathematics, and helped 
Major-General Shrapnel with some of his mathematical calculations 
for artillery. He was a musician, singing, playing several instruments, 
and composing; in fact, through all his pursuits, as in his poetry, goes 
a passion for form and order and reason. There is an excellent 
formality about his wood engravings, and all through his life he felt 
the desire for visual order within a frame. When he was twenty-one, 

1 All these quotations are from a copy of Barnes's MS., "Notes on the Life of 
William Barnes", in possession of the Barnes family. There is some doubt as to 
whether Barnes was born in 1800 or 1801, though he was christened early in 1801. 
Thomas Hardy believed it to have been in 1800. 

99 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

he went so far in his wish to be a professional engraver and artist that 
approaches were made for him to Rudolph Ackermann in London, 
but the replies of Ackermann and the engraver Edward Scriven were 
discouraging. 1 He remained an amateur, and a picture collector, 
owning work by Riehard Wilson, Etty, Bewick, John Baverstock 
Knight, Westall, Danby, and others. 

in 

In all his early life and it would not be easy to calculate how 
much of a handicap this was Barnes had no friend or acquaintance 
of his own stature. He knew, and was helped by older men with 
some scholarship and ability, but he had no contact at all with 
any other considerable poet until he reached early middle-age. He 
was not aggressive, and beyond the approach to Ackermann, never 
seems to have had a thought of coming nearer to London than Mere, 
or of introducing himself to any other writer. He liked Dorset and 
Wiltshire, he liked scything, he liked his wife, his children and his 
pursuits. " 'Mr. Barnes/ his wife would say, 'you are burying your 
talents in this poor out-of-the-way place.' " He had a "marked shy- 
ness of demeanour, an awkwardness in his gait and mien, and a cer- 
tain amount of indifference to his personal appearance". He was 
"morbidly modest". And "so uniformly mild were his manners and 
language that he was often suspected of being deficient in determina- 
tion and spirit; a suspicion which in reality had no very solid justifica- 
tion; but Barnes was such a decided advocate of peace at any price 
that he would never, except when driven by sheer necessity, enter 
any arena as a probable disputant". He kept good discipline in his 
school, never used the cane, and always wore (in the class-room) "a 
long, light-blue, rough-faced, flannel-textured dressing-gown" 
(somewhere, if it still exists, there is a painting of Barnes as a young 
man in his dressing-gown). In his twenties, he was an odd, pre- 
maturely baldheaded scholar and schoolmaster. 

These notes about young Barnes were written by one of his pupils, 2 
who added that he was "nearly isolated" socially, and was looked 
down upon in Mere, and in Dorchester as well, He had his few 
friends; but whether "nearly isolated" is an exaggeration or not, it is 
certain that all his richest years of creation were passed in a loneliness 
of spirit and intellect. Barnes, like his neighbours, was unaware of 

1 The late Rev. William Barnes as Engraver, Vere L. Oliver, F.S.A., Dorset 
Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club Proceedings, 1925. 

2 C. J. Walhs, "Early Manhood of William Barnes the Dorset Poet", in the 
Gentleman's Magazine, July, 1888. 

100 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

the comparative standing of his own genius, and the world was 
unaware of it until Coventry Patmore began to review him and praise 
him when he was nearly sixty. And then the world quickly returned 
to its old indifference. 

"He is of no school but that of nature", wrote Patmore, which is 
true, so long as you do not interpret it to mean that he was a nai've, 
or unlearned writer. "Mr. Barnes, in his poems, is nothing but a poet. 
He does not there protest against anything in religion, politics, or the 
arrangements of society; nor has he the advantage of being able to 
demand the admiration of the sympathizing public on the score that 
he is a chimney-sweep, or a rat-catcher, and has never learned to 
read/' 1 But for all his meticulous, highly professional knowledge of 
writing, and his rare gift of sustaining his sensibility and skill, all 
through life, Barnes was so fulfilled (except in a worldly sense: he 
had plenty of troubles before he settled down into being a parson) 
that I doubt if he ever quite looked upon himself as a "poet" in our 
conscious European way. He was much more like a plant, which 
does not exist for its flowers. 2 Such a lack of vanity and ambition 
coupled with so much expert skill may be unique. If he had moved 
among men of letters, he might have gained much, but he might 
equally have stained the clear run of his talent. Landor might have 
companioned him well, and invigorated him, but who else? He was 
narrowed by Dorset, but Dorset, for all its indifference, kept him 
safe, like Clare in his asylum. 

IV 

His first book was Poetical Pieces, printed for him in Dorchester in 
1820 ten poems in ordinary English. He was then twenty years old, 
and there is nothing much to mark in these conventional album 
verses but their neatness, and the fact that he began to write in 
normal English, and for many years continued to do so. Orra: A 
Lapland Tale, Dorchester-printed in 1822, is worth more. It stands 
to his later writing like Gebir to the rest of Landor, or Midnight to 
Crabbe, or A Vision of The Mermaids to the rest of Hopkins, and it 
came partly out of his reading of Joseph Acerbi's Travels Through 
Sweden, Finland, and Lapland to the North Cape, a travel book pub- 
lished twenty years before, and partly from eighteenth-century visions 

1 William Barnes, the Dorsetshire Poet", in Macmillan's Magazine, vol. VI., 1862. 

* "W. Barnes left no list of his poems, and rarely talked of them ... he seems to 
have written when the inspiration was upon him, and, having written, he was 
satisfied. " His son, Rev. W. Miles Barnes, in the introduction to Poems in the Dorset 
Dialect, 1906, p. 2 t 

101 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

of the frozen sea. The title-page text comes from Dryden's version of 
the Georgics: 

There as they say perpetual night is found 
In silence brooding on th' unhappy ground. 

And the subject is Orra's search for her lover, a night she spends 
in a frozen cave, where her boat breaks away, so that the answer 
(undescribed) must be death. Barnes's unending love of clear, 
contrasting colour is now put down for the first time: 

Her bosom seemed, beneath her long black hair, 
Like snowy hills beneath the clouds of night 

As graceful as the silvery cloud 

That glides upon the summer air 

And softly now her snowy eyelids close, 

Weighed down by slumber, o'er bright blue eyes 

There are three seedlings which develop in his later poetry. In A 
Vision of the Mermaids Hopkins's way of making a detailed jewellery 
out of his observation already shows itself lusciously and thick. In 
Barnes's Omz, you see already how carefully he is going to select, 
and how sparsely, and so how brightly, he is going to use colours for 
emotion. 

Out of its order because it is almost as little known it will be 
as well to look inside the last of his early books in ordinary English, 
Poems Partly of Rural Life, published in 1846 in London. The son- 
nets, and probably many of the other poems in this book, were 
written much earlier most of the sonnets in 1830 (when he also 
wrote sonnets in Italian). Barnes's poems never develop an emo- 
tional, or rather a psychological, subtlety. When as often they are 
exceedingly sure and moving, simple, elemental feelings are made to 
pull at our hearts by an intricate subtlety of rhythm and pattern. That 
subtlety he had not made perfect by 1830, so that the simplicity of 
statement stands out a bit too much. Yet I do not see why so classical 
and serene a poem as his fifth sonnet, Leaves, should remain obscure: 

Leaves of the summer, lovely summer's pride, 
Sweet is the shade below your silent tree, 
Whether in waving copses, where ye hide 
My roamings, or in fields that let me see 
The open sky; and whether ye may be 

Around the low-stemm'd oak, robust and wide; 

Or taper ash upon the mountain side; 
Or lowland elm; your shade is sweet to me. 
102 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

Whether ye wave above the early flow'rs 
In lively green; or whether, rustling sere, 
Ye fly on playful winds, around my feet, 

In dying autumn; lovely are your bow'rs, 
Ye dying children of the year; 

Holy the silence of your calm retreat. 

And other poems to be remarked in this book are A Winter Night, 
Rustic Childhood, The Lane, and Burncombe Hollow. Two stanzas 
from Rustic Childhood will show Barnes's eye for light and for ob- 
jects. Many nineteenth-century poets observed exquisitely, but not 
many could order this observation so well as Barnes, and space it 
out with such an infallible effect: 

... Or in the grassy drove by ranks 

Of white-stemm'd ashes, or by banks 

Of narrow lanes, in- winding round 

The hedgy sides of shelving ground; 

Where low-shot light struck in to end 

Again at some cool-shaded bend, 

Where we might see through darkleav'd boughs 

The evening light on green hill-brows. 

I knew you young, and love you now, 

shining grass, and shady bough. 

Or on the hillock where I lay 
At rest on some bright holyday; 
When short noon-shadows lay below 
The thorn in blossom white as snow; 
And warm air bent the glist'ning tops 
Or bushes in the lowland copse, 
Before the blue hills swelling high 
And far against the southern sky. 

1 knew you young, and love you now, 

shining grass, and shady bough. 

The same qualities, not yet finally intensified and refined, you can 
read in "The Lane": 

1 love the narrow lane's dark bows, 
When summer glows or winter blows; 
Or when the hedge-born primrose hides 
Its head upon the drybanksides 

By ribby-rinded maple shoots, 
Or round the dark-stemm'd hazel's roots; 
103 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Where weather-beaten ivy winds 
Unwith'ring o'er the elm's brown rinds 
And where the ashes white bough whips 
The whistling air with coal-black tips; 
And where the grassy ground, beside 
The gravel-washing brook, lies wide . . . 
And wither'd leaves, too wet to ride 
The winds, line ev'ry ditches side . . . 

I find very little forced or awkward about "The Lane", and I have 
normalized the italic letters of the original, which Barnes put in to 
show how the poem was written on the alliterative principles of Old 
English poetry again an anticipation by many years of Hopkins's 
concern with Old English. (Barnes had much else to import into the 
nineteenth century, out of the wide reaches of his scholarship and his 
curiosity.) 



Barnes's poems in normal English up to, and after this 1846 
volume, are more numerous and more accomplished than is realized, 
but in the Dorset dialect he certainly did come to the top of his 
classical perfection. Thomas Hardy had quoted from Barnes's state- 
ment that he wrote in dialect because he could not help it: "To write 
in what some may seem a fast out-wearing speech form, may seem 
as idle as writing one's name in the snow of a spring day. I cannot 
help it. It is my mother tongue, and is to my mind the only true 
speech of the life that I draw." 1 That always struck me as rather a 
puzzling statement. It is true that, having spoken in dialect as a child, 
for some time he probably kept a Dorset accent (as Coleridge kept 
something of a Devonshire accent). As a man, he could no doubt 
slip from English into Dorset English (he preached his sermons in 
Dorset); but his first promptings were to write poems in plain 
English, which he did until he was thirty-four, and continued to do, 
at intervals, all through his life. And after 1867, for his last nineteen 
years, he reverted to English and wrote only one poem in dialect. 2 
In other words he could perfectly well help it, and often did. Had 
Barnes made a statement which was obviously untrue? In his frag- 
ment of his own life he wrote a little differently: "As to my Dorset 
Poems and others, I wrote them so to say, as if I could not well help 

1 Preface to Select Poems of William Barnes, 1908, p. vui. For the full statement 
see preface to Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect , Third Collection, 1862, p. ni. 

2 Introduction by Rev. W. Miles Barnes, to Poems in the Dorset Dialect, 1906. 

104 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

it, the writing of them was not work but like the playing of music, the 
refreshment of the mind from care or irksomeness." 1 

And others that is to say, it was a general statement about all his 
poems, and perhaps a deliberate qualifying of his earlier statement 
that he could not help it as if he felt that, if nearly true, it was not 
quite true enough. 

Writing in dialect began as a preference, a choice which Barnes 
made out of his philological delvings. His daughter confirms that 
in her Life of William Barnes and says "when he began, it was as 
much the spirit of the philologist as the poet which moved him". 
And she quotes his statement that "the Dorset dialect is a broad and 
bold shape of the English language, as the Doric was of the Greek. 
It is rich in humour, strong in raillery and hyperbole; and altogether 
as fit a vehicle of rustic feeling and thought, as the Doric is found in 
the Idyllia of Theocritus"; 2 and elsewhere, several years after his first 
Dorset poems were written, but several years before the first book of 
them came out, he affirmed that Dorset dialect was "purer and more 
regular than that which has been adopted as the national speech". 3 
So, far from being a spontaneous act, this choice of dialect was a 
learned perversity, which he was able to carry through, since dialect 
had been his first speech, without the defects of being perverse. Once 
he began, he found he could do it by nature. Then, no doubt, he 
could not help continuing. 

What I mean will be clarified by thinking of Doughty, who set 
out to revitalize English by reviving, with an early dictionary always 
alongside his writing hand, the dead, unspoken English of the six- 
teenth century. Doughty is unreadable, Barnes is a delight. Barnes is 
genuine, Doughty a monster, and perverse, with all the defects of 
perversity. 

And as a prolegomenon to the Dorset poems it is worth referring 
also to Hopkins 's letters. Hopkins had already admired Barnes for 
a good many years when Coventry Patmore sent him three volumes 
in 1885, and he had some sharp words with Bridges (who admired 
Doughty) over Bridges* "contemptuous opinion" of Barnes "the 
supposed emotions of peasants". "I hold your contemptuous opinion 
an unhappy mistake: he is a perfect artist and of a most spontaneous 
inspiration; it is as if Dorset life and Dorset landscape had taken flesh 
and tongue in the man"; 4 and writing earlier to Bridges, he makes a 

1 "Notes on the Life of William Barnes**, by himself. MS. transcript in posses- 
sion of the Barnes family. 

*Ltfe, p. 84. 

* Gentleman's Magazine, January 1840, p. 31. 

4 The Letters of Gerard Manlcy Hopkins to Robert Bridges, ed. C. C. Abbott, 1935, 
p. 221. The date of the letter is Sept. 1st, 1885. 

105 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

comparison, the Tightness of which I will not argue about, between 
Barnes and Robert Burns. Burns, he says, does not translate: take 
away the Scotchness and something ordinary remains, but Barnes 
does translate, and without a great loss. 1 And that at least is true: a 
lack of knowledge of the euphony of Dorset dialect does not, to my 
ear, make it impossible to enjoy Barnes's poems clearly and intensely. 
There are two lines I keep among the furniture of memory, and keep 
in this form: 



The cuckoo over white-waved seas 
Do come to sing in thy green trees. 



Barnes wrote: 



The gookoo over white-weav'd seas 
Do come to zing in thy green trees. 

The translation I make, more or less without meaning to, is much 
nearer Barnes's writing than, shall I say, Barnes's, or anyone else's 
reading of the Idyls of Theocritus was ever near to the original sound 
of Theocritus; and though I have no suspicion that Barnes ever 
wrote any of his Dorset poems first in ordinary English in the 
English he habitually used in his reading, in his letters, and, I suppose, 
in his thoughts, the English versions that he did make of some of 
the Dorset poems are no less lively and authentic. The English 
version of The Mother's Dream, for instance, is not less good than the 
Dorset original. 2 

VI 

There is a remark in Llewellyn Powys's letters that Barnes never 
writes about the sea. That is nearly, if not quite, true. He had no 
taste for the sea, one of many facts which mark him off from other 
poets and painters and writers of his time Darley, Tennyson, 
Swinburne, Patmore, Courbet, Melville, Emily Bronte, for example. 
And there is a deeper explanation for it than a land-locked childhood, 
and Barnes's intense cultivation of his inland, rural imagery. He had 
no use for the swell and turbulence and endless width of the sea 
for its lack of form. . v He is not a poet for expansive mystery, or for 

1 Ibid , p. 87, 14th August, 1879. 

* The Dorset original of "The Mother's Dream" is in Poems in the Dorset Dialect 
1906. The Rev. W. Miles Barnes explains in the introduction that many of the 
poems in Poems of Rural Life in Common English (1868) were translations from the 
Dorset. 

106 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

crossing the bar, for the infinite in any way. 1 He does not feel lost, 
or overwhelmed, or bound to fight against a universal ocean. He 
accepts, and does not interrogate, the universe. And his form, and 
his observation, are two things I want to explain. However narrow 
Barnes may have been, form and observation are qualities in his verse 
that we can profit by. He was not a fragmentary poet, or a Samuel 
Palmer with eight or nine years of lyrical vision and explosion. 
Lyrics such as White an' Blue, with its airy vitality and youthfulness, 
were written when Barnes was nearly seventy years old. And often it 
is not easy, so much are his poems conceived or carried out as a unit, 
to isolate a stanza or an image for admiration. Coventry Patmore 
well remarked "often there is not a single line worth remembering in 
what is, nevertheless, upon the whole a very memorable poem". 2 
The poems are rhythmically united, and tied together still more 
tightly by refrains. When I was putting together my anthology The 
Romantics this will illustrate the unity I am talking of I ended 
Barnes's poem The Sky A-clearen at a point where I could bring out 
the pictorial exquisiteness of the third stanza one of his colour- 
contrasts: 

The dreven scud that auvercast 
The zummer sky is all a-past, 
An* softer air, a-blow&n droo 
The quiv'ren boughs, da shiake the vew 
Laste rain draps off the leaves lik' dew; 
An' piaviers now a-gettn dry, 
Da steam below the zunny sky 
That's now so vast a-clearen. 

The shiades that wer a-lost below 
The starmy cloud, agen da show 
Ther mocken shiapes below the light; 
An* house-walls be a-looken white, 
An' vo'ke da stir oonce muore in zight, 
An' busy birds upon the wing 
Da whiver roun' the boughs an' zing, 
To zee the sky a-clearen. 

1 Tennyson it is typical of the nineteenth century writes of death as crossing 
the bar and putting out to sea. The eighteenth-century attitude is to sail calmly or 
contemplate storm from the quiet of the harbour, e g Matthew Greene: 
I make (may heav'n propitious send 
Such wind and weather to the end) 
Neither becalm'd, not over-blown, 
Life's voyage to the world unknown. / y^ g Spleen] 

* "William Barnes, the Dorsetshire Poet", Macmillan's Magazine, vol. VI, 1862, 
p. 156. 

107 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Below the hill's an ash; below 

The ash, white elder-flow'rs da blow; 

Below the elder is a bed 

O' robinhoods o' blushin' red; 

An' there, wi' nunches all a-spread, 

The hay-miakers, wi' each a cup 

O' drink, da smile to zee hold up 
The rain, an' sky a-clearen . . . 

It was just possible to do it to make the mutilation, and let it stand 
but I felt the poem, like that, seemed to bleed. Its form, like a 
statue with an arm broken above the elbow, foretold the rest. The 
rest, it is true, is touched this is Barnes's Victorian, pathetic vice 
with a weak sentiment, even if the remaining stanzas are demanded 
by the broken pattern: 

. . . Mid blushn maidens wi' their zong 

Still draw their white-stemm'd reakes among 
The long-back'd weales an' new meade pooks, 
By brown-stemm'd trees an' cloty brooks; 
But have noo call to spweil their looks 
By work, that God could never meake 
Their weaker han's to underteake, 
Though skies mid be a-clearen. 

'Tis wrong vor women's han's to clips 
The zull an' reap-hook, speades an' whips; 
An men abroad, should leave, by right, 
Their bit o' vier up at night 
An' hang upon the hedge to dry 

Their snow-white linen, when the sky 
In winter is a-clearn. 

But what mutilation would be possible at all in a later poem such as 
My Love's Guardian Angel, where the refrain is worked up to the 
emotional weight of its last use? 

As in the cool-air'd road I come by, 

in the night, 
Under the moon-climb'd height o' the sky, 

in the night, 

There by the lime's broad lim's I did stay, 
While in the air dark sheades were at play 
Up on the windor-glass, that did keep 
Lew vrom the wind my true-love asleep, 

in the night. 
108 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

While in the grey-wall'd height o* the tow'r, 

in the night, 
Sounded the midnight bell wi' the hour, 

in the night, 

There come a bright-heair'd angel that shed 
Light vrom her white robe's zilvery thread, 
Wi' her vore-vinger held up to meake 
Silence around lest sleepers mid weake, 

in the night. 

"Oh! then," I whisper'd, "do I behold 

in the night, 
Linda, my true-love, here in the cwold, 

in the night?" 

"No", she did answer, "you do misteake: 
She is asleep, 'tis I be aweake, 
I be her angel brightly a-drest 
Watch&n her slumber while she do rest, 

in the night." 

Zee how the clear win's, brisk in the bough, 

in the night, 
While they do pass, don't smite on her brow, 

in the night; 

Zee how the cloud-sheades naiseless do zweep 
Over the house-top where she's asleep. 
You, too, goo on, though times mid t>6 near, 
When you, wi' me, mid speak to her ear 

in the night. 



VII 

Barnes's Italian journals I have not been able to see, but he seldom 
put down any more detail about the poems he was engaged on than 
a laconic "scrivendo versi" or "versi scritti", 1 so it would not be 
possible from them to date either their evolution or his complicated 
experiments in form. Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect, his 
third book of poems, was published in 1844, when he was already 
in his forties. Much of the contents must be earlier than that: he had 
written his first dialect poem, "The 'Lotments", I think, ten years 

1 Poems in the Dorset Dialect, 1906. Introduction, p. 3, 

109 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

before when he was recovering from an illness, 1 And here I may 
give the names of all his later collections. Few libraries have his 
poems complete. Orra is not in the British Museum. The recent 
Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature doubts if there is a copy, 
though two exist, as well as the manuscript, in the Museum at 
Dorchester. After the first Dorset collection of 1844 and the English 
poems of 1846, came in 1859 Hwomely Rhymes] in 1863 Poems in 
the Dorset Dialect, Third Collection', in 1868 Poems of Rural Life in 
Common English', in 1870 A Selection from Unpublished Poems, pub- 
lished by Winterbourne Monkton school; and in 1906, post- 
humously, Poems in the Dorset Dialect, printed by the Dorset County 
Chronicle. Several of his best poems are in this last rare pamphlet, which 
the British Museum lacks, as it lacks Orra and the pamphlet of 1870. 

Through all these books, all these poems, he steadily keeps up his 
sheer skill, with much variation in form. Hardy noticed that "on 
some occasions he would allow art to overpower spontaneity, and to 
cripple inspiration"; 2 but he allows that rarely enough, and his art 
is so fine and certain that he seldom seems monotonous through 
mannered repetition, or overworking, of successful effects. If I read 
Clare's poems, so deficient was Clare in this cultivated strength of 
Barnes, I find myself overfed with the visionary substance of poetry, 
which has simply been put down in the readiest, easiest and most 
obvious jog-trot form. Barnes was less completely in the world of 
nature than Clare. He does not achieve Clare's absolute hits, he is 
not a seer but he does not come down to Clare's dribble of absolute 
misses. 

Form to him was fitness: he \\rote several things about it, and he 
explored as well the origin and simplest nature of poetry. "Matters 
most interesting to me are those belonging to man, in his life of body 
mind and soul, so in his speech, manners, laws and works." 3 As 
for man, "the natural man is unfallen man, as he was finished by the 
hand of God, when He saw all that He had made to be very good". 4 
And whatever fallen man may be, "the beautiful in nature is the 
unmarred result of God's first creative or forming will . . . the 
beautiful in art is the result of an unmistaken working in man in 
accordance with the beautiful in nature". 5 He maintained "there is 

1 "1834 I wrote the first of my Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect . . . The 
first Dorset Idyl was written in my room when I was uphalening from a sickness, an 
ailing of the liver/* MS. Scrapbook in Dorchester Museum. 

* Select Poems of William Barnes, 1908. Preface, p. ix. 

8 Transcript of MS. "Notes on the Life of William Barnes 1 *, by h ; mself, in 
possession of the Barnes family. 

4 Review: "Patmore's Poems", in Fraser's Magazine, July, 1863, p. 130. 

5 "Thoughts on Beauty and Art", Macmillan's Magazine, vol. IV, May-Oct 
1861, p. 126. 

110 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

no high aim but the beautiful. Follow nature: work to her truth*'. 1 
But "the beautiful is also the good by reason of a fitness or harmony 
which it possesses". 2 He admired "the beauty and truth of colour 
and action in the Dutch school; and" since he is anything but 
Dutch "the harmony, tone, and effect of colour, even with bad 
drawing, and, in some cases, it may be with a want of depth, in a work 
of Turner". 3 In all the beautiful things of a landscape, he discovered 
fitness "fitness of water to irrigate growth, and to run for all lips to 
the sea; fitness of land to take and send onward the stream; fitness of 
strength to weight, as of the stem to the head of a tree; fitness of 
elasticity to force, as that of the poplar, and the bough whose very 
name is bending, and the bullrush and grass to the wind; fitness of 
protection to life, as in the armed holly and thorn, and the bush, or 
ditch-guarded epilobium; and a harmony of the whole with the good 
of man". 4 

Harmony was a favourite word, and harmonic proportion a 
favourite topic, with Barnes. He wanted harmonic proportion in 
churches "that too little understood and wonderfully neglected 
principle of harmony in form as well as in sound" 5 ought to be 
applied, so he maintained, to the relative heights of the tower the, 
nave and the chancel. He framed his pictures and bound his books 
in harmonic proportion. He held that poetry must keep in with the 
fitness of nature and must conform to the nature of speech and the 
natural cause of poetry among men. "Speech was shapen of the 
breath-sounds of speakers, for the ear of hearers, and not from speech- 
tokens (letters) in books", 6 and discovering what he could about the 
origins of poetry from books of travel and philology and his own 
study of European and Oriental literature, he believed that poetry did 
not spring from cultivation or refinement, but from elemental 
necessity: "there has never been a full-shaped tongue that has 
sounded from the lips of generations of any tribe without the voice of 
song; and ... to a bookless and un writing people verse is rather a 
need than a joy". 7 It is curious to find him down in his Dorset 
isolation writing that "the measures of song . . . may themselves be 
measured, not only by the steps of the dramatic dance, but by the 
steps of a march, or by the strokes of oars, as in the Tonga songs of 
the kind called Towalo or paddle songs, which Mariner says are 
never accompanied with instrumental music, but which are short 

1 Ibid., p. 126. a Ibid., p. 128. Ibid., p 137. 4 Ibid., p. 133. 

* Letter on harmonic proportion as applied to churches in Gentleman's Magazine, 
December, 1843. 

* From the "Fore-say" in An Outline of English Speech-Craft, 1878. 

7 "The Old Bardic Poetry' ', Macmillan's Magazine, vol. XVI, 1867, p. 306. 

Ill 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

songs sung in canoes while paddling, the strokes of the paddles being 
coincident with the cadence of the tune". 1 

In English poetry, his own practice was based on the Enlighten- 
ment; and no doubt he owed that salutary basis, in part, to being out 
of the swim, to being brought up in a countryside where the eighteenth 
century was still alive in the nineteenth; and to associating early 
with old-fashioned men for whom the Augustans were more im- 
portant, still, than Wordsworth, or Keats, or Shelley. Such is the 
viable advantage of not always being modern, or up to date. He was 
little touched with an Elizabethan or a Miltonic romanticism, much 
as he studied the structure and prosody of Milton and the Eliza- 
bethans. Spontaneity, singing because you must, "like the playing of 
music, the refreshment of the mind from care or irksomeness" yes. 
But he read Dryden and Pope, and he quoted Mrs. Cooper on 
Waller's poetry, that Waller "rode the Pegasus of wit with the curb 
of good manners". 2 It would be interesting to know when he first 
read and absorbed the Earl of Mulgrave's Essay Upon Poetry, with its 
emphatic praise of Homer and its emphasis on "exact Propriety of 
Words and Thought" in the writing of songs: 

Expression easie, and the Fancy high, 
Yet that not seem to creep, nor this to fly\ 
No Words transpired, but in such order all, 
As, tho' by Care, may seem by Chance to fall. 

Mulgrave, said Barnes, "writes to fancy or genius 

... I am fain 
To check thy course, and use the needful rein. 

Without judgement, fancy is but mad", he quoted, and went on, "A 
Welsh bardic canon says: the three qualifications of poetry are 
endowment of genius, judgement from experience, and happiness of 
mind"* Paraphrazing Mulgrave, he liked lines which are written 
"with a skill that conceals skill", that "keep all the strait rules of verse, 
yet flow as freely as if they were wholly untied". Then, "we cannot 
but feel that kind of pleasure which is afforded by the easy doing of 
a high feat, besides that which is afforded by good writing". 4 

After all that, neither the complexity of his lyric dodges and 

1 "On the Credibility of Old Song, History and Tradition", Fraser's Magazine, 
September, 1863. 

2 "Plagiarism and Coincidence", Macrmllan's Magazine, vol. XV, November, 
1886, p. 77. 

* Ibid., p. 77. 

4 "The Old Bardic Poetry", Macmillan's Magazine, vol. XVI, 1867, p. 307. 

112 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

formalities, nor his care (how different from much in Tennyson) to 
pick over his observation and select from it, and never or seldom to 
overcrowd, continue to be surprising, however rare they are in other 
men's poetry between 1830 and 1870. 

To analyse Barnes's skill exactly, one would need some degree of 
his own knowledge of Italian, of Persian (Petrarch and Sa'di were 
his favourites) and of Welsh, and other languages as well. On his 
eighteenth-century basis of " exact propriety of word and thought" he 
heightened his verse in every way he could, by setting himself tasks of 
every kind. There are clues to this heightening, and to his mind, in 
the elaborate exemplification of rhyme in his Philological Grammar 
(1854), a book which he "formed from a comparison of more than 
sixty languages". He sympathizes with all rhyming tasks which can 
be alloyed into the structure of a poem. "A poet may impose upon 
himself any task, as that he will introduce some forechosen word 
into every distich or line, or exclude it from his poem; or that every 
line shall end with a noun; or that his poem shall take a chosen form 
to the sight; or he may bind himself to work out any unusual fancy." 
He mentions George Herbert's poems in the form of wings or an 
altar, reproves Addison for calling Milton's matching of words of 
the same root u poor and trifling", as in 

That brought into this world a world of woe 
Which tempted our attempt. 

" However poor and trifling this figure might have seemed to 
Addison, it is sometimes very striking, as shown in the spontaneous 
language of mental emotion", and he gives other examples of this 
root-matching, "called by the Persians . . . derivation", from Virgil, 
Sophocles, Crabbe, Tennyson, Cowper, Coleridge, George Herbert, 
Shakespeare and other Elizabethans. Other poets of his age had 
taken from Elizabethans only an attitude, or fairy nothings (compare 
much of Darley or Hood), or insubstantial horrors. Barnes looked at 
the way they wrote, their word-repetitions, their collocation of two 
words alike in sound, unlike in meaning, their acrostics, their 
elaborate alliterations, and so on, which are paralleled by the elabora- 
tions and conventions of the Persian mediaeval poetry he so much 
enjoyed. The Persian poets and the Elizabethan lyric writers (and, 
for that matter the English poets of the Enlightenment whom Barnes 
learned from first of all) concerned themselves more with virtuosity 
of language than with originality of ideas. Beside the Augustan 
uniformity of common sense and a commonly held stock of know- 
ledge, one could place the statement of the Arab historian, Ibn 
E 113 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Khaldiin, that "the Art of Discourse, whether in verse or prose, lies 
only in words, not in ideas . . . ideas are common to all, and are at 
the disposal of every understanding, to employ as it will, needing no 
art". 1 That certainly was how Barnes thought of poetry, elaborate 
in art, simple in ideas, and straightforward in effect. And he transfers 
much of the elaboration that he discusses to his own verse for 
example, from Eastern poetry the "kind of word rhyming, or word- 
matching* ' called adorning, "in which every word of a line is answered 
by another of the same measure and rhyme in the other line of the 
distich": 

As trees be bright 

Wi' bees in flight. 2 

The Persians, he says, use an ornamental punning or "full-match- 
ing ..." a full likeness in sound, of words which differ in meaning. 
He used it in The Wold Wall: 

Ah! well-a-dae! O wall adieu. 

He used the peculiar parallelism of Hebrew poetry the principle of 
"Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askalon" in 
Melhill Feast, for example: 

The road she had come by then was soon 
The one of my paths that best I knew, 
By glittering gossamer and dew, 
Evening by evening, moon by moon 

or in the uncollected Troubles of the Day: 

As there, along the elmy hedge, I go 

By banksides white with parsley parsley-bloom. 

Welsh and Irish poetry were sources for him. For instance, in Irish 
poetry "there is a kind of under- rhyme, or rhyme called union, which 
is the under-rhyming or rhyming of the last word or breath-sound in 
one line, with one in the middle of the following one". Here it is in 
Times o' Year: 

Here did sway the eltrot flowers 
When the hours o' night wer vew, 
An* the zun, wi* early beams 
Brighten J d streams, an' dried the dew . . . 

But his most pronounced Celtic borrowing is the cynghanedd, the 
Welsh repetition of consonantal sounds in the two parts of a line, 

1 Quoted by E. G. Browne: A Literary History of Persia, vol. II, 1906, p. 85. 
a This and the few subsequent quotations are from Barnes's Philological Grammar 
(1854). 

114 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

divided by a caesura, which is better known in English through its 
use by Gerard Hopkins. The familiar instance comes as a refrain in 
the poem so celebrated through its musical setting. My Orchard in 
Linden Lea, in which the apple tree 

Do lean down low in Linden Lea, 

where the cynghanedd consonants are DLNDNL/NLNDNL; but there 
are plenty more, such as "In our abode in Arby Wood", or "An* love 
to roost, where they can live at rest". 

Hopkins was made a bit uneasy about this particular borrowing. 
Barnes he wrote "comes, like Homer and all poets of native epic, 
provided with epithets, images, and so on which seem to have been 
tested and digested for a long while in their native air and to have a 
keeping which nothing else could give; but in fact they are rather all of 
his own finding and first throwing off". 1 This he thought "very high 
praise" and he found his rhythms "charming and characteristic", as 
they are, certainly. But his use of cynghanedd he did not think success- 
ful "To tell the truth, I think I could do that better" and he added 
that it was "an artificial thing and not much in his line". 2 I believe 
Hopkins was half true, and half-wrong in not realizing how much 
Barnes's line was at once conscious and unconscious art half-true, 
because although Barnes's most perfect poems are sometimes elabor- 
ate tasks, they are usually ones influenced by his borrowings from 
world prosody, but not embodying them pure and direct. 

Barnes's soul was not lit by sulphur, he did not, like Melville, 
measure himself against fate or walk on the sea-bottom, "left bare by 
faith's receding wave", or wrestle with God, or hang, as Hopkins 
hung, desperately, on the dreadful cliffs of the mind; he may, as 
Hopkins agreed with Bridges in saying, have "lacked fire" (though 
that is not always so, in my judgment), but he knew and felt as much 
about the function in human life, the origins, nature, and adorn- 
ment, of lyrical poetry, and its form, as any poet who has written in 
English. To paraphrase a valuable remark of Auden's, he disciplined 
himself and proved the power of his creative impulses by accepting 
the limitations of form. He created a system of poetry for his own use. 



VIII 

And Barnes knew also about the interest of poetry. Form and 
interest, structure and selective observation in these, in the lack of 

1 In Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. C. C. Abbott, 1938. Letter to 
Patmore, 6th October, 1886. 2 Ibid. 

115 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

them, have been most apparent the weakness of English poetry (and 
painting too), in the last hundred years. Barnes, Hopkins, Hardy 
(though his forms, in spite of his study of Barnes, have an intricate 
tight roughness like a clump of brambles), Auden, though not I 
think Yeats, and not Eliot, in spite of their degrees of stature, have 
been strong where others have been weak in both of these qualities. 
Observation, not always well selected, and seldom well alloyed and 
organized in form, has been common enough. But by itself the 
similarity of the shape of poems on the pages of books shows at one 
look the monotonous lack of skill in form, and lack of concern for it, 
which have been so common. In the matter of interest, in selective 
observation, it may be that we are catching up; it may be that 
talented English writers of verse go on being deficient now mainly in 
any passion for the structure of verse. But, whatever the advance, it 
may be just as well to finish on Barnes's epithets, images, and sub- 
stance. 

I have quoted Barnes's view of nature, though not completely: 
man has fallen, and nature as well is not unmarred, but "the beautiful 
in nature" that is "the unmarred result of God's first creative or 
forming will" and "the beautiful in art is the unmistaken working of 
man" in accordance with this unmarred result, which is good also 
by its fitness or harmony. The fallen working to the unfallen. 1 "Look 
for pleasure", Barnes wrote, "at the line of beauty, and other curves 
of charming grace in the wind-blown stems of grass, and bowing 
barley or wheat; in the water-shaken bulrush, in the leaves of plants, 
and in the petals of flowers; in the outlines of birds, and even their 
feathers and eggs; in the flowing lines of the greyhound, the horse and 
cat, and other animals; in the shell of the mollusc, and in the wings 
and markings of insects; in the swell of the downy cheek, the rounded 
chin, the flowing bendings of the pole and back, and the outswelling 
and inwinding lines from the head to the leg of woman stepping 
onward in the pride of youthful grace; and tell us whether nature 
does not show us graceful curves enough to win us from ugliness, 
even in a porringer." 2 And "fitness" made him an enemy of veneers 
and shams: "does nature make you a handsome tree or flower near 
your town, and slight her work in the world? or light up your water 
for a crowd-sought park, and not for the wanderers in the wilds? No. 
Nature and true art are faithful. . . . We have churches with a fine, 
high-wrought street end, and brick walls behind, out of man's sight 
(poor Pugin's eyesore!), as if the builders worked not for good, but 

1 "Thoughts on Beauty and Art", Macmillan's Magazine, vol. IV, 1861, p. 126. 
8 Ibid., p. 128. 

116 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

for man; and so a low aim has wrought a low work of art. Of such 
a sham some writer speaks somewhat in the following strain, for I 
quote from memory: 

They built the front, upon my word, 

As fine as any abbey: 
But thinking they might cheat the Lord, 

They made the back part shabby." 1 

Nature must therefore be sifted for the authentic, for the beautiful 
in nature; and the heavy grain of this sifting, its force, is concentrated 
into Barnes's epithets "green-treed": 

As evenen air, in green-treed spring, 
Do sheake the new-sprung pa'sley bed 

or "sweet-breath'd": 

An' sweet-breath'd children's hangn heads 
Be laid wi' kisses, on their beds 

or "dim-roaded" night, or "blue-hill'd" as an epithet for the world, or 
"sky-back'd", for the flight of clouds, and many more epithets which 
are impressed with the force of experience. He told Palgrave that "he 
had taken Homer, and him only, as his model in aiming at the one 
proper epithet in describing". 2 And this sifting gives his epithets a 
serenity and wide truth that one misses in the particular detail of 
much Preraphaelite description, from Tennyson to the passionate 
observation of Hopkins. Read, or broadcast to an audience who 
have not the texts in front of them and do not know them, Dyer's 
eighteenth-century Grongar Hill and Tennyson's over-embroidered 
Progress of Spring (an early poem, it is true), and one poem is fuddling, 
the other comes to the audience clear through the simplicity and 
sparingness of its effects. Barnes's poems, are, for effects, half-way 
between the two; but riding his Pegasus on the rein, he would never 
go so far from the wide truth as Tennyson peering unfamiliarly into 
the inside of a horse-chestnut flower: 

a but less vivid hue 

Than of that islet in the chestnut-bloom 
Flamed in his cheek 

Barnes holds the rein at some such limit as "where the black-spotted 
bean-bloom is out" or "thatch-brow'd windows". 

1 "Thoughts on Beauty and Art", Macmillan's Magazine, vol. IV, 1861, p. 136. 
^Francis Turner Palgrave, by Gwenlhan Palgrave, 1899, p. 185. 

117 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

He keeps in with this restraint in preferring the quickly-taken truth 
of descriptions of states of light, states of air, and states of colour 
sometimes all three in one. For instance in My Love's Guardian 
Angel, which I have quoted: 

As in the cool-ai'r'd road I come by, 

in the night . . . 
in 

High over head the white-rimm'd clouds went on, 
Wi' woone a-comen up, vor woone a-gone; 
An' feair they floated in their sky-back'd flight, 
But still they never meade a sound to me 

or 

I'm out when snow's a-lyn white 

In keen-ai'r'd vields that I do pass, 
An' moonbeams, vrom above, do smite 

On ice an' sleeper's window-glass 

or in three stanzas from In the Spring: 

. . . O grey-leafy pinks o' the gearden, 
Now bear her sweet blossoms; 
Now deck wi' a rwose bud, O briar, 
Her head in the Spring. 

O light-roll&n wind, blow me hither 

The vaice ov her talkn, 
O bring veom her veet the light doust 

She do tread in the Spring. 

O zun, meake the gil' cups all glitter 

In goold all around her, 
An' meake o' the deaisys' white flowers 

A bed in the Spring . . . 

But Barnes's use of colour is often, as I have said, the setting of one 
colour sharp against another one, a visual antithesis, like two halves 
of a line in Pope balanced against each other. Long after he had 
begun this, he began to look deliberately for its counterpart and 
warrant in nature, making a list of 'the contacts of sundry pairs of 
colours on natural bodies", such as white and black in the bean 
blossom, yellow and orange in toadflax or the brimstone butterfly. 
"Nature is very sparing of showy contrasts of warm and cold colours. 

118 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

Red and blue are very rare, and of yellow and blue the cases are but 
few; and black and blue are found in lepidoptera more often than 
white and blue are seen in our Flora and Fauna." 1 

Blue and white, all the same, was the coupling he most often 
repeated, though frequently he set yellow against black: 

There near the wheatrick's yellow back, 
That shone like gold before the sky, 

Some rooks with wings of glossy black 
Came on down wheeling from on high 

And lightly pitched their feet 

Among the stubble of the wheat 

White sometimes against red (I have quoted one example elder 
flowers against red campion): 

Oh! the cherry-tree blossom'd all white 
And again with its cherries was red 

Or white against green as in the cuckoo lines or Zummer Thoughts in 
Winter Time: 

When white sleev'd mowers' whetted bleades 
Rung sh'ill along the green-bough'd gleades. 

But blue and white began with Orra (and even before that in a poem 
in his first book of 1820): 

And softly now her snowy eyelids close, 

Weighed down by slumber, o'er her bright blue eyes, 

As bound beneath the cold and wintry snows, 
The azure wave of ocean frozen lies 

and they were observed together again and again, in his wife, in 
skies, in butterflies, in flowers against sky or reflected sky. Examples 
are in White an 9 Blue, where the colours are the substance of the 
poem, in The Water Crowfoot: 

Thy beds o' snow-white buds do gleam 
So feair upon the sky-blue stream 

in Zummer Stream: 

There by the path, in grass knee-high, 
Wer buttervlies in giddy flight, 
All white above the deasies white, 
Or blue below the deep blue sky 

1 "Thoughts on Beauty and Art*', Macmillan's Magazine, vol. IV, 1861, p. 132. 

119 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

in Not Sing at Night (a poem not reprinted since its appearance 
in the Poet's Corner which Barnes inhabited so often in the Dorset 
County Chronicle): 

Or where below the clear blue sky 
The snow white linen hung to dry, 

And blue and white well express the mathematics, the clear, the 
serene, and the harmonious in Barnes's make. Blue and white are the 
serenity of nature the nature, said Barnes, which "is the best school 
of art", adding "and of schools of art among men those are best that 
are nature's best interpreters". 1 

IX 

We have too much of a habit now of reflecting our discontent 
with an author's political convictions, or his political indifference, or 
his inconsistency, back on to all of his work, as though the issues of 
the sadness of our time were immeasurably greater than ever before 
in the human race. We forget that there are still for each of us what 
we must regard as constant transcending verities, that what appears 
to be "reaction" may be much more vitalizing than the thirty-shilling 
suit of modernity or avantegarde, or immediate politics, that being a 
trimmer need not imply a lack of inward truth, whether the trimmers 
are Dryden, or Turgenev, or a good many living European authors 
who have touches of Munich about them. Barnes may, in a very 
good sense, be a minor poet; but not in the sense that his writing is a 
mess of words occasionally lit by a sparkle of pure intuition. And I 
may have suggested, wrongly, if you recall the quotation from Pat- 
more, that Barnes was indifferent to the times, or separated from 
them entirely. As far as not being indifferent possesses value, that 
was not so. The anxious bewilderment between faith and science 
scarcely reached him, and scarcely ripples in his poetry. I can only 
recall one open reference to it in his poem, The Happy Daes When I 
Wer Young: 

Vrom where wer all this venom brought 

To kill our hope an' taint our thought? 

Clear Brook! thy water coodden bring 

Sich venom vrom thy rocky ^spring 

the venom being "what's ata'k'd about By many now that to 
despise The la's o' God an' man is wise"; and he affirmed in another 
poem 
1 Ibid. 

120 



WILLIAM BARNES, 1800-1886 

My peace is rest, my faith is hope 
An* freedom's my unbounded scope. 

"That is a subject connected with politics, not with poetry", he 
said to his son when he reminded him of a request that he should 
write a Dorset recruiting poem. "That is a subject connected with 
politics, not with poetry. I have never written any of my poems but 
one with a drift. I write pictures which I see in my mind". 1 The 
one poem, the early Dorset Eclogue, The Times, with its fable of 
the pig and the crow, he had written against the Chartists. He felt 
that the Chartists would unsettle the Dorset labourer without 
remedying his condition; and, with his views of God, nature, man, 
harmony and fitness, what did disturb him, deeply, was the unfitness 
he saw in the social development of the nineteenth century, and in 
the consequent decay of freedom; the unfitness which caused him to 
write the curious amalgam of wisdom and simplicity he called Views 
of Labour and Gold (1859), in which he was concerned "to show the 
possible effect of the increase of great working-capitals and monopolies 
on the labourer's freedom or welfare". Two extracts will give its tenor: 

"The kindness which is done by capital when it affords employ- 
ment to people from whom, by a monopoly, it has taken their little 
business, is such as one might do to a cock by adorning his head with 
a plume made of feathers pulled out of his own tail." 

"It is more healthy to rack one's mind in effectual devices to win 
a skilful end, than to work as a machine without a free aim or thought; 
and so, as a Hindoo poet says, to be like a smith's bellows, breathing 
without life." 

But Barnes's social views, simply consistent with his views of the 
world of life and art, are only a stroke in the drawing of a full portrait 
of Barnes. They are less important than the wavy, mazy, slow, river- 
like rhythm of his poem The dole (clote is the yellow water-lily): 

O zummer clote, when the brook's a-sliden 

So slow an' smooth down his zedgy bed, 
Upon thy brode leaves so siafe a-rid&n 
The water's top wi' thy yoller head, 
By black-rin'd allers, 
An' weedy shallers, 
Thee then dost float, goolden zummer clote. 

less important than the rhythm with which he patterned his life 
and his impulses to describe and sing. There are poems which are 

1 Life of William Barnes, p. 323. 

E* 121 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

slightly embarrassing, in which Barnes tails I hesitate to describe it 
so into a provincialism of sentiment; but his tailings are more 
innocent and slighter than the monstrous wallowing falls into the 
same weakness not confined to Dorset of some of Barnes's 
greatest coevals. 1 And even his weakest poems are strengthened by 
their pattern and dexterity. In the narrow sense, there are not art- 
and-society reasons for urging that Barnes should be read, urging 
that he should have the status given to him ungrudgingly by Patmore, 
Hopkins, and Thomas Hardy. He may and I think he did give 
to English writing more than has ever been suggested or allowed. 
Hardy he very much influenced, and Hardy's rhetoric and pattern 
were the first to strike the authentic note in Auden's life: "He was 
both my Keats and my Carl Sandburg" 2 the note and the Con- 
temporary Scene. And how much effect did he have on Gerard 
Hopkins, who read Barnes when he was an undergraduate, compli- 
mented him by critical admiration, and put some of his poems to 
music? Both Hopkins and Barnes were after a revitalized language 
for poetry. Were Barnes's poems to name only a little thing the 
seeds of Hopkins 's own concern for Welsh and for Anglo-Saxon? Is 
it entirely a coincidence of period and a consequence of identical 
aims that "or as a short-stand-night-watch quick foreflown" and 
"which at early morn with blowing-green-blithe bloom" 8 are not 
lines by Hopkins, but translations from Old Friesian by Barnes? Or 
that both invented their own critical terms rather than take them 
ready-made and devitalized from philologists and prosody? Or was 
Barnes not the instigator of much which has come down through 
Hardy and through Hopkins as well? 

Yet these questions are only, again, the more trivial baits to reading 
him to reading one of the few nineteenth-century poets who "con- 
ceived of art, like life, as being a self-discipline rather than a self- 
expression". Barnes, if he were more read, could become one of the 
healthy, if lesser, antidotes to the Romantic disease. He is not a rustic 
aberration; but just as Barnes kept in Dorset during his life, so he has 
been kept there ever since. The point is to deliver him to extract 
him from his rather snobbishly affixed integument of mud; to exhibit 
his mind's cool-aired quality. 

1 There is nothing metaphysical about Barnes; and the Persian poet he appears 
to have liked best, Sa'di, was also the least metaphysical, or mystical, of the great 
Persians, the most "homely", and the one most abundantly translated into English 
between 1850 and the eighties; though he also admired Hafiz. Barnes greatly liked 
The Angel in the House, but I doubt if Patmore's Unknown Eros (which he read) 
would have spoken much to him. 

2 "ALiteraryTr3Lnsference",SouthernReview t vol. VI, No. 1, Summer, 1940, p. 80. 

3 Early England and the Saxon English, 1869, p. 173. 

122 



IO 

THOMAS HARDY 1 

WH A T is the common way of regarding Thomas Hardy, whose 
birth is commemorated this year, and whose life stretched 
across the nineteenth century to our own, through war and 
war? Other professionals H'enry James, for instance have always 
patronized him a bit. Not quite an author, not quite a poet, not quite 
an artist; and also, no doubt, not quite a gentleman. Not at all 
Browning, not Mr. T. S. Eliot. The man who wrote "When I set out 
for Lyonesse" and "Only a man harrowing clods". Not quite a peasant, 
but nearly. And he said that the Odyssey or the Iliad was "in the 
Marmion class". I doubt if Mr. Clive Bell would think of Hardy and 
Cezanne together. I doubt if many of those who read, or advise us 
to read, The Dynasts at the present time, go far deeper than the 
topicality of Napoleon's threat to invade England or the resemblance 
between Hitler and Napoleon as two products of the Unseen Forces 
and the interplay of the Eternal Abstractions. 

Hardy was our prelude. He was not (nor was Cezanne) a lumpy, 
honest and simple peasant; but a complicated, cultured, resolute, 
narrow, sensitive man of the new professional classes of the nine- 
teenth century; his profession, that is his preliminary profession, 
being architecture. He appeared simple, because his effects were 
reduced to the apparent simplicity of bone. He was a man without 
ambition, able to conceive ideas, roll them round, feed them, and 
mature them slowly through a very long time. He was penetrated by 
natural objects and phenomena, which he felt thoroughly as them- 
selves, and, in one act, as images of the knot of human life. As he 
saw one thing, he saw another: the little old simpleton saw the 
affectation of his superior contemporaries (Walter Pater's manner 
"is that of one carrying weighty ideas without spilling them"); but 
he did not wish to seem a depreciator and so he destroyed nearly all 
the notes he had made of this kind. 

It seems to me facile to claim that the profession in which a man is 
bred a passive act must be related to the profession in which he 
discovers himself. The link may be there, but it can seldom be proved 
and it belongs usually to that order of unscientific and sentimental 
statements about descent which live in the first chapters of biography. 

1 Written for the Architectural Review, for the Hardy centenary in 1940, 

123 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

An anthologist, for example, has just detected a strain of Celtic 
mysticism in the poet Robert Stephen Hawker, though he was Eng- 
lish by descent and training, because he lived in Cornwall. So I am 
sure it is wrong to say that such and such happened in Hardy's 
writing, because he was an architect. Architecture was not vitally 
prominent in Hardy's work, certainly not in Hardy's imagination. 
How could it be? Architecture is a poor art a poor professional art 
for a strong sense of life. How can a young architect give form, 
except in drawings, to the urgencies of his feeling? I presume that 
architecture must be a profession of competent channels com- 
petent hacks, if you like through whom the already shaped ideas 
are put into stone, brick, or steel. The ideas change a little between 
entering and leaving the channel, but the architects who feel the time, 
and feel history and first shape the ideas, are very few. They are the 
rare, widely separated men of genius, fortunate in the coincidence of 
their own powers and a receptive time in which many buildings are 
demanded to fill some new social need. Since the means of archi- 
tectural realization are costly, communal, and non-individual, so 
great an urgency as Thomas Hardy's in his youth must have broken 
out elsewhere unless there had been some fluke of favourable cir- 
cumstance. And, as it was, Hardy showed little architectural talent, 
either as a draughtsman or a designer. He acquiesced in architecture, 
and was pushed into it by his father, who was a builder, and had 
worked for Mr. John Hicks, the Dorchester architect and church 
restorer by whom Hardy was first instructed. " Hardy was a born 
bookworm, that and that alone was unchanging in him; he had some- 
times, too, wished to enter the Church, but he cheerfully agreed to 
go to Mr. Hicks 's." 1 

So much for that. And now it is established that Hardy and 
architecture came accidentally together (much as a lawyer's son may 
become a lawyer and then a landscape painter), it will be safe to say 
how his practice of architecture tinged, for example, his poetry; and 
to affirm that if Hardy's architectural talent was mediocre, he had 
that sense of human history in physical images which architecture 
needs and which so few architects ever possess. 

Hardy worked chiefly on church restoration, vicarages and rectories, 
and schools for the London School Board, He stayed for some time 
with Mr. Hicks, sketching and surveying churches in the West of 
England, and destroying (to his later sorrow) much medieval, 

1 This, and the quotations which follow, and the biographical details, are taken 
from Florence Hardy's Life of Thomas Hardy. 

124 



THOMAS HARDY 

Jacobean and Georgian detail. He came to London in 1862, and 
after getting politeness but no employment from Benjamin Ferrey, 
Pugin's pupil and biographer, he found a job with Arthur Blomfield. 
For ten years Hardy wavered between architecture and letters. Sir 
Arthur Blomfield he became one of mediocrity's knights was 
congenian to work with. They sang hymns together, when there was 
little to do. Hardy was continually writing poems to Blomfield's 
knowledge and even began to turnEcclesiastesin Spenserian stanzas. 
He drew funny pictures on the Adam mantelpiece in the offices in 
the Adelphi. He did strange jobs superintending the removal of the 
tombs and corpses and skeletons of Old St. Pancras churchyard for 
the Midland Railway, for example. Behind a hoarding, by gas 
flares, the work went on all night, the loose skeletons being carried on 
boards. He won the R.I.B.A. silver medal in 1862 with an essay on 
Architectural Polychromy (the essay was presumably not good enough 
to be printed in the transactions of the Institute, and is now lost). 
He paid much attention to pictures, he began to write novels. He 
went back to Dorchester and helped Mr. Hicks. He helped a Wey- 
mouth architect who took over Hicks 's practice and this brought 
him a wife when he went down to advise on the restoration of St. 
Juliot Church in North Cornwall. His wife, Miss Emma Gifford 
opened the door to him in the rectory; and so one could say that 
architecture introduced him to some of his happiest and bitterest 
times and led to such poems as Lyonesse (written and how that 
knowledge revives it! on the way back from Cornwall) and, forty 
years later, to the deeply pathetic emotional retrospect, After a 
Journey. In 1872 he was designing schools with Professor Roger 
Smith, but Under The Greenwood Tree had now been written and his 
own impulse and the prescience of Miss Gifford were pushing him 
absolutely away into literature. 

At Blomfield's his not being ambitious was observed; and he re- 
corded in his old age how his mind was then beginning to fill with 
poetry: "A sense of the truth of poetry, of its supreme place in litera- 
ture, had awakened itself in me. At the risk of ruining all my worldly 
prospects I dabbled in it ... was forced out of it. ... It came back 
upon me .... All was of the nature of being led by a mood, without 
foresight or regard to whither it led." 

" Churchy" was how Hardy described himself; but Hardy's 
churchiness was that of a man involved in humanity; who believed 
that everything should be done to ease "mortals' progress through a 
world not worthy of them". "I have been looking for God for fifty 
years," he wrote down in 1890, "I think if He had existed I should 

125 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

have discovered Him." Churches were to Hardy places sacred to 
tragedy rather than to God, where an answer had been pitifully 
looked for and never found. So it is ironic from one angle, and right 
from another, that he tidied up so many churches in the interests of a 
creed he believed to be no longer of use. If he had wished to build 
and set up in practice, it is not easy to see anything he could have 
built out of his full and peculiar churchy heart in the fifty years after 
1870. His churches to his God, a Cause neither moral nor immoral, 
loveless and hateless, are something for which no one would have 
provided the stone and cement. Yet, I repeat, Hardy began where 
the rare and true architect should begin with man, not first with 
those forms which sprout from man, or with his clothes, however 
expressive they may be. The accidentals of his union with archi- 
tecture brought him not only into the happy and sad experience of 
his marriage ("the ultimate aim of the poet", he wrote down from 
Sir Leslie Stephen, "should be to touch our hearts by showing his 
own"), gave him not only persons to write about (such as the church- 
restorer in A Pair of Blue Eyes or George Somerset in The Laodicean) , 
but forced him into the company of vital images. They brought him 
into the yet intolerable London of 1862, the cruel capital of Baal 
which Dostoevsky saw in that year or the next, 1 the prediction from 
the Apocalypse, with the fish-flares of gas, the drunkenness, evident 
wealth, evident poverty, the Haymarket full of whores, and the City 
still drained into cesspits built after the Great Fire, a ten foot bank 
of human droppings piling up where the river Lea emerged at 
Barking Creek, and a stink from the same substance in the river per- 
vading the Houses of Parliament. And so Hardy observed year after 
year the false clean-up the cleansing of the Lea and the accumula- 
tion of filth in the human heart, breaking into wars; the black com- 
parison between material growth and moral repression on which he 
speculated so much in so many poems. 

Herein, with his power of sight and vision, is rooted Thomas 
Hardy's human sensibility; by which the pilers-up of Maiden Castle 
or the Thames-side business blocks are hardly possessed. Whether 
he had that architectural sensibility in a more restricted way that 
feeling for the historicity and humanity of form and ornament and 
the fitting of building into landscape, which is commoner among 
amateurs than architects, I doubt, although I could quote such re- 
marks as u the ashlar backyards of Bath have more dignity than any 
brick front in Europe". Hardy digs rather for the general root of all 

1 In "Winter Notes on My Summer Impressions* ', translated in the European 
Quarterly No. 2, August 1934. 

126 



THOMAS HARDY 

buildings. He goes to St. Marks, he is anti-Ruskin, he finds it squat, 
oriental, barbaric, built on "weak, flexuous, constructional lines." He 
records chiefly that the floor "of every colour and rich device, is worn 
into undulations by the infinite multitudes of feet that have trodden 
it". He goes to Salisbury into the Close, at night, "walked to the 
West front and watched the moonlight creep round upon the 
statuary of the facade stroking tentatively and then more firmly the 
prophets, the martyrs, the bishops, the kings and the queens". He 
goes round Westminster Abbey by lantern at midnight, or into 
Wimborne Minster: 

How smartly the quarters of the hour march by 

That the jack-o'-clock never forgets; 
Ding-dong; and before I have traced a cusp's eye, 
Or got the true twist of the ogee over, 

A double ding-dong ricochetts. 

Just so did he clang here before I came, 

And so will he clang when I'm gone 
Through the Minster's cavernous hollows the same 
Tale of hours never more to be will he deliver 
To the speechless midnight and dawn. 

I grow to conceive it a call to ghosts, 

Whose mould lies below and around. 
Yes; the next "Come, come", draws them out 

from their posts, 

And they gather, and one shade appears, and another, 
As the eve-damps creeps from the ground . . . 

Always, you see, a church, always a meeting place of the dead, the 
living, and the unborn. On architecture as an art, and as an art of the 
age through which he was living, I do not know that Hardy pronoun- 
ced anything peculiar or deep. He was much impressed by the 
Englishness of the Perpendicular (read "The Abbey Mason" in 
Satires of Circumstances). He discerned that architecture and poetry 
resembled each other, "both arts having to carry a rational content 
inside their artistic form"; and perhaps it is truly said that his poems 
have a precise Gothic intricacy, even on the page. But it is curious 
curiously instructive that he interprets his period more certainly 
when he thinks of painting, than when he thinks of his own pro- 
fession. "I am more interested," he said, "in the high ideas of a 
feeble executant than in the high execution of a feeble thinker." He 
preferred Zurbaran to Velasquez. He put down in 1886 "my art is 

127 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

to intensify the expression of things, as is done by Crivelli, Bellini, 
etc., so that the heart and inner meaning is made vividly visible". 
More to be remarked one thinks of Balzac's Chef d'oeuvre Inconnu 
or justly again of Cezanne is the statement he made to himself 
in January, 1887: 

"After looking at the landscape ascribed to Bonington in our 
drawing-room I feel that Nature is played out as a Beauty, but 
not as a mystery. I don't want to see landscapes, i.e. scenic paint- 
ings of them, because I don't want to see the original realities as 
optical effects, that is. I want to see the deeper reality underlying 
the scenic, the expression of what are sometimes called abstract 
imaginings. 

The 'simply natural' is interesting no longer. The much de- 
cried, mad, late-Turner rendering is now necessary to create my 
interest. The exact truth as to material fact ceases to be of im- 
portance in art it is a student's style the style of a period when 
the mind is serene and unawakened to the tragical mysteries of life; 
when it does not bring anything to the object that coalesces with 
and translates the qualities that are already there half hidden it 
may be and the two united are pictured as the All." 

That is the best gloss on Hardy's own aims in his poetry, in which, 
and not in his novels, he has given us the most to feed upon. "A 
skeleton the one used in these lectures is hung up inside the win- 
dow. We face it as we sit. Outside the band is playing, and the 
children are dancing. I can see their little figures through the window 
past the skeleton dangling in front" there he is. I understand, I 
think, why Mr. Eliot, setting Yeats beside Hardy, believes Hardy to 
be obviously a minor poet. Hardy and Eliot interpret life very dif- 
ferently. The churchiness of each is differently composed; and Yeats 
is a pagan, but a purer writer, less crinkle-crankle in his substance. 
Hardy works more by seeing, less by the imagination. The scope of 
his sensuality is limited, and he repeats himself with too little varia- 
tion. But I also understand why it is that poetry in English cannot 
avoid Hardy, as, I believe it can well and does avoid Mr. Eliot. It 
is not dealing in insolence with insularity, but pointing to a fact of 
inheritance, of transmission, if I remark thajt Mr. Eliot is an American 
(who has spoken too much in ungenerative fragments and qualifica- 
tion), and Thomas Hardy an Englishman. What Mr. Auden has 
admitted, that Hardy was his "poetical father", that he provided him 
with a "modern rhetoric which was more fertile and adaptable to 
different themes than any of Eliot's gas-works and rats' feet which 

128 



THOMAS HARDY 

one could steal but never make one's own", 1 many more poets of my 
generation could also admit, with gratitude. He recorded "impres- 
sions, not convictions", was an artist, not a moralist or philosopher, 
and observed at once the language, the age, and the world. " Style 
consider the Wordsworthian dictum (the more perfectly the natural 
object is reproduced the more truly poetic the picture). This repro- 
duction is achieved by seeing into the heart of a thing (as rain, wind, 
for instance) ..." He admired the realism of Crabbe, and narrow as 
he may have been, he brought back a selective appropriate realism, a 
truth, a congruence, an honesty. In 1909, in answer to an enquiry 
from Berlin: "We call our age an age of Freedom. Yet Freedom 
under her incubus of armaments, territorial ambitions smugly dis- 
guised as patriotism, superstitutions, conventions of every sort, is 
of such stunted proportions in this her so-called time, that the 
human race is likely to be extinct before Freedom arrives at matur- 
ity." In 1920, when he was seventy-nine: "January 19th Coming 
back from Talbothays by West Stafford Cross I saw Orion upside 
down in a pool of water under an oak." Here, then, are two observa- 
tions, and I reverence Hardy as an observer, one who discerned with 
terrible accuracy the intensification of evil and was glum and numb 
less, on the whole, over individuals than over the events which vic- 
timize them and kick them on through a world to which they are 
superior. 

I recall the last lines of his poem on the Armistice of the earlier 
war (we are less charitable): 

Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency; 
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky; 
Some could, some could not, shake off misery; 
The Sinister Spirit sneered: "It had to be!" 
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, "Why?" 

I recall now a letter written by Rainer Maria Rilke in the intensity 
of the last war: 

". . . no longer can the measure of the single heart be applied, 
yet at other times it was the union of earth and sky and of all 
distances and depths. What, at other times was the cry of a 
drowning man; and even if it was the village idiot who reached up 
from the water with a cry grown suddenly clearer, everything rushed 
towards him and was on his side and against the disaster, and the 
quickest man risked his life for him . . . people cling to the war 

1 In the Southern Review^ Summer 1940. 

129 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

like misers with all the weight of their heavy consciences. It is a 
human bungling, just as everything in the last decades was human 
bungling, bad work, profiteering, except for a few painful voices 
and figures, except for a few warning prophets, except for a few 
zealots who held to their own hearts, which stood contrary to the 
stream. Rodin, how often, how everlastingly did he reiterate words 
of disapproval and suspicion against the course of things. It was 
too much for me, I took it for exhaustion and yet it was judgement. 
And Cezanne, when they told him of outside affairs, in the quiet 
streets of Aix, he could burst out and shriek at his companion: 
'Le monde, c'est terrible.' One thinks of him like a prophet and one 
longs for another to cry and howl so, but they have all gone, the 
old men who might have had the power to weep now before the 
peoples of the world." 1 

Thomas Hardy was one of them. How bitterly appropriate that 
the centenary of his birth should fall to be celebrated in the year of 
the no less terrifying and even more immense and complicated war in 
Europe. 

1 The translation is by R. F. C. Hull. 



130 



II 

COURBET, CHIRICO, AND CONSTABLE 

The Oak dies as well as the Lettuce, but its Eternal Image 
and Individuality never dies, but renews by its seed. 

WILLIAM BLAKE. 

SOME one, who, it appears, will give the picture to England, has 
just paid over 43,000 for Constable's "Stratford Mill". A 
few days before the sale, in a few ill-chosen words, the President 
of the Royal Academy exaggerated the picture in The Times into 
being "without exaggeration, the world's best landscape"; for which, 
one agrees, 43,000 would not be too much. But though balanced 
against a picture, a good picture, forty- three pennies or forty-three 
thousand pounds are all the same, the purchaser, if not the President, 
would no doubt believe that the price he paid was an index of this 
landscape's profundity; and that Constable, artist as he is, should be 
rated, in any of his works, at such an index, reveals precisely where 
we are in England. We have taken, and we did it a long while ago, 
what Blake named "the iron gate down Sneaking Lane". So long 
have we ceased to attend to discernment, so long confided in our 
mediocrity of "instinct", so long rated art by auction values, so long 
been habituated to book clubs, that we can believe Constable to have 
been endowed to paint "the world's best landscape". 

It comes out of forge tfulness; and two sets of confusion. Forget- 
fulness of the existence of the highest, inmost possibility of art; a 
confusion of such art with the modern arts of pathos, described in 
that judgement of Sir Leslie Stephen's that "the ultimate aim of the 
poet should be to touch our hearts by showing his own". (Thomas 
Hardy also noted a madder absolute of Stephen's that "We cannot 
write living poetry on the ancient model. The Gods and heroes are 
too dead, and we cannot seriously sympathize with . . . the idealized 
prize-fighter"). The second confusion is, confusing the value of 
Constable with his peculiar place and influence in the changes of art 
and vision. Constable was an innovator, in the sense of being an 
earlyish vehicle of change; but innovation, per se, is only a virtue, a 
value, for pedants. Constable was determined, and narrow, a small 
man with intimations of the greatness, the perennial fruitfulness, of 
others. His paintings are a disturbed autobiography, a showing of 
his own restless heart, an ungratified longing for the heart's calm 

131 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

sunshine, which he confused with a picturizing of the music of nature. 
Honest, finally humble, Constable would never have claimed ability 
even to paint the tenth best landscape in the world. But his way of 
painting was damagingly susceptible of imitation, and iteration al- 
most, because of a central weakness, or, at least, superficiality, of 
vision. His illumination (the final, finished pictures show this 
again and again) was not inward and powerful enough to carry him 
unweakened through sketch and version to a victorious, still illumi- 
nated end; a fact which tempted critics, in defence of Constable, into 
evasion and excuse founded upon circumstances of fashion and of the 
market in Constable's life: l When sketch is mentioned one needs to 
recall Blake's private note on Sketches and Michelangelo: 

Sir Joshua sent his own Portrait to 

The birth place of Michael Angelo, 

And in the hand of the simpering tool 

He put a dirty paper scroll, 

And on the paper, to be polite, 

Did "Sketches by Michael Angelo" write. 

The Florentine said u> Tis a Dutch English bore, 

Michael Angelo's name writ on Rembrandt's door." 

The Florentines call it an English Fetch, 

For Michael Angelo did never sketch. 

Every line of his has Meaning 

And needs neither suckling nor weaning . . . 

We have lived a hundred and fifty years now in the beatification, the 
deification of the first impulse, until we are fuddled, however much 
we have learned of the generating of art, between Michelangelo and 
child drawings from the progressive school; but the full conception 
of the Masters cannot be sketched, nor does their mastery ripen in 
sketches. Masters are not employed by scenes, as Constable was, in 
his own words. Masters do not remark "I always sit still till I see 
some living thing; because if any such appears, it is sure to be 
appropriate to the place. If no living thing shows itself, I put none 
in my picture." 2 Masters do not wish, if they could afford it, always 
to paint in the open air. But then a hundred and fifty years, im- 
mersing us also to the forehead in connoisseurship, art history and 
art councils, have taught us to distinguish no more between the 
primal and the secondary, to understand no more Blake*s "O that 

1 This problem is discussed, reasonably, by Sir Kenneth Clark in The Hay Wain 
(The Gallery Books No. 5), though he redresses over-praise of the sketches by over 
praising the final pictures. 

* W. P. Frith: Further Reminiscences, 1888. 

132 



COURBET, CHIRICO, AND CONSTABLE 

men would seek immortal moments !", to remember no more that a 
very few men have sought and found such moments. Constable is 
not one of them. He shows his heart, and he touches ours; but 
imagination does more than touch hearts, and so, could one decide 
upon it, would the best landscape in the world. 

Constable, knowing the truth, spoke of his art himself as "limited 
and abstracted". He was able, being in one sense no greater than his 
time, to base it upon no more of nature than sufficed for feelings 
reflected from himself to nature and back again; less the substance of 
nature, remould it, personalize it as he might, than, as I say, the 
music of nature which expressed the vagueness of his own yearnings. 
"With particulars," he said of Gainsborough, "he had nothing to do; 
his object was to deliver a fine sentiment." With particulars, Constable 
had only a little more to do; and his object, at any way, his practice, 
by way of generalized states, light, rain, greenness, was, to deliver 
himself. Now it is this generalization, this absence of the firm, the 
grained, the solid, the poetry of the solid, by which after the fore- 
most painting from Giotto, through Michelangelo down to Poussin 
and then, for the time being, to Courbet has passed through recol- 
lection's eyes, Constable's art reduces itself to superficiality, to 
excellent, fresh satisfaction (as in the "Weymouth Bay") only of 
certain elementary needs and moods. "II faut encanailler Tart"; but 
how essential for the inmost satisfactions, the inmost poetry of art, 
no less than for raising the pathetic above the sentimental, is the low 
company, the realized company, realize it as one will, of objects, and 
attributes and qualities of the object; of rocks, trees, water, legs, 
cloud, a hammock! If Holderlin says "blue" in a poem, a life's 
learning of blue, in all its particularities, exists behind it. If Clare 
says "love" in his Northampton asylum, how much love has been 
required to give the words its power, the line, the stanza, the poem 
its rhythm and its ability to be compelling; love of that girl whom he 
hit in the eye with a green walnut, love of everything which lives 

The flowers join lips below, the leaves above 
And every sound that meets the air is love! 

Blake, by the way we isolate his conclusions, neglect his other re- 
marks, and are remarkably blind to his art, we hold to be one who was 
an enemy to nature; but that is confounded by more than his pictures; 
by his advice to Samuel Palmer, by his letter, more than twenty years 
before, to Dr. Trusler: "The tree which moves some to tears of joy is 
in the Eyes of others only a Green thing which stands in the way . . . 
But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination 

133 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

itself. As a man is, so he sees. As the Eye is formed, such are its 
Powers. . . . What is it sets Homer, Virgil and Milton in so high a 
rank of Art? Why is the Bible more Entertaining and Instructive 
than any other book? Is it not because they are addressed to the 
Imagination, which is Spiritual Sensation, and but mediately to the 
Understanding or Reason? " And how many times does not Blake 
insist upon the Particular "What is General Nature? Is there Such 
a Thing? What is General Knowledge? Is there Such a Thing? 
Strictly speaking All Knowledge is Particular." Or, "They say there 
is no Strait Line in Nature; this Is a Lie, like all that they say. For 
there is Every Line in Nature. But I will tell them what is Not in 
Nature. An Even Tint is not in Nature; it produces Heaviness. 
Nature's Shadows are Ever varying, and a Ruled Sky that is quite 
Even never can Produce a Natural Sky; the same with every Object 
in a Picture, its Spots are its beauties. Now, Gentlemen Critics, how 
do you like this?" 

Returning to Courbet, it is not that he sought after immortal 
moments; his was mainly the pathetic art in its solidest nature (which 
can only be mixed with Whistler and the Chinese, to travesty, in Mr. 
Victor Passmore's skill, the genuineness of each); his was art as much 
of the nineteenth century as the landscapes of Ford Madox Brown or 
the poems of Thomas Hardy or Gerard Hopkins, or the Sportsman's 
Sketches of Turgenev. But so much appears to have been decided 
and settled, as we look back, by the time he was painting, that we 
make no mistake of awarding Courbet a rank higher than he pos- 
sessed because he held in his hand the beginning of a thread in the 
history of art. Constable we are tempted to decorate with an Order 
of Extreme Merit, less because of that food which we, as individual 
souls, can derive as we stand in front of the agitation of "Hadley 
Castle" or the imposed serenity of "The Hay- Wain", or the fresh- 
ness of a hundred sketches, than because, to our insular historical 
pride, Constable begat the Impressionists. Courbet disturbs us into 
no such temptation, into no likelihood of paying ^43,000 for one of 
his landscapes. Indeed, we are still ready to call out "realism" behind 
Courbet, as though we still preferred high company (the high com- 
pany of that Ned Jones who became Sir Edward Burne Jones, or of 
Watts, or Ricketts?) still believed that Courbet had gone too far, still 
recollected the Commune and the exile. Expatiating on painters 
offering us, not imagination, not the monumental, but the desirable 
life, expatiating on his own desire to walk into frames, and sunbathe 
in some classical sea-port in the Italian light of Claude (where he 
would be horribly out of place in trunks), we still nourish a species of 

134 



COURBET, CHIRICO, AND CONSTABLE 

dilettante who may stand for that refinement which works^gainst 
realism, against imagination; which would hardly like to be inside 
the frame walking among the bushes where some bull-bottomed big 
breasted girl of Courbet's steps out of the clear water. 

Giorgio de Chirico, one of the few artists of our century I find it 
possible in his maturest, visionary canvases, to admire with only few 
reserves possible to feed upon, has written with tenderness and 
insight about Courbet; and he has established the truth, demolished 
the perjorative nonsense, about Courbet's "realism". 1 Both Courbet 
and Madox Brown (born within two years of each other) believed 
they were bound to paint "things as they are". Courbet painted his 
"Stone-Breakers" as they were: "I invented nothing, dear friend; 
every day when I went for a ride, I saw these men/' 2 But if "Real- 
ism: G. Courbet" was written by him on his exhibition hut, some 
greater portion of eternity, pathos or no, was written into his heart. 
"He appears to us always in the atmosphere of his epoch for what he 
was," wrote de Chirico, "a romantic." And he defined his roman- 
ticism: "Romantic! Curious word, full of meaning and the far-away 
dream. Many suspicions and misunderstandings arise from it. For 
us it means only art that is felt and inspires feeling, art that is firmly 
placed on the solid base of reality, art which makes us aware of that 
something of the great mystery of the infinite, which in a moon-lit 
night breathes through the rents of the flying clouds. . . . Homer was 
a romantic." 

Nature, of course, Constable regarded; but he looked at the daylit 
sky, at light, he diluted the solid base into personal yearning. His 
was a feeble romanticism of the pathetic fallacy. He is in his pictures, 
in a way Courbet is not to be found in the grain of that vision of 
nature which he realized. More truly, more lastingly, Courbet and 
nature, individual and continual, are there in an equipoise together, 
in the low exciting tones, say, of the greens of a forest or the un- 
superficial greenish-blue of a sky into which the trees are growing, 
in the grain of limestone ledges, in the solid "deroulement" of waves; 3 
even in black and white reproduction, this poetic grain of Courbet's 

1 Giorgio de Chirico. Gustave Courbet. Valori Plastici, Rome, 1926. 

2 One may learn much by comparing Courbet's "Stone-Breakers'* with the simi- 
lar English subjects by John Brett at Liverpool and George Wallis at Birmingham. 
If Courbet began from the roadside one may suspect Henry Walhs began from that 
quotation out of Carlyle "For us was thy back so bent. In us were thy straight 
limbs and fingers so deformed. ..." with which he labelled the picture when it 
went to the Academy in 1858. 

* de Chirico quotes Baudelaire 

Homme hbre, toujours tu cheiiras la merl 
La mer est ton miroir; tu contemples ton ame 
Dans le deroulement mfini de sa lame .... 

135 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

paint does not disappear. But without colour, how ordinary, how 
merely photographic, graphic of immediate light and glance Con- 
stable appears in the plates of some book! And even more so in his 
drawings. At first one feels in front of Constable, "This is nature. 
This is a wet sky over Hampstead"; then one feels "This is ordinary 
nature, the skin of nature"; then one realizes "This is Constable, or 
Constable naturized". In front of Courbet, one feels nature, solid, 
real, interpreted from the bloom to the bone, made into poetry; 
realizes, as de Chirico maintains, that Courbet "felt more profoundly 
than Delacroix the sense of reality" and "is for this very reason more 
poetic and romantic than Delacroix". "Courbet is a story teller" 
says de Chirico. "Nulla sine narratione ars. We do not mean to insist 
that the word narration or story must imply an anecdote, an event, or 
an historic fact. The work of art must tell something beyond the 
limits of its volume. The object or the figure must tell poetically 
something which is even distant from them, something which even 
their volume materially conceals." More generous, more mature 
than Constable, Courbet's story is the pathos of the world, Constable's 
is the pathos of Constable, of that modicum of the world contained 
in Constable. 

The solid base of reality produces within and throughout a picture, 
both form and composition that composition, as Henry James says 
in one of his prefaces, without which a picture "slights its most 
precious chance for beauty". Constable has the feminity, Courbet 
the masculinity, of form; and the feminity has its place, if inferior, 
and has its worth. But the composers in art, from first to last (ex- 
cluding those who impose upon colours a mere geometry), are those 
artists who have most fully known, and felt, the solidity, the ins, the 
outs, the hollows, protuberances, surfaces, particularities and spots, 
the structure and the growth and the volume of objects. Look not 
only at Courbet, but at Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, 
Michelangelo, Poussin, Stubbs, Velasquez, Cezanne, Mary Cassatt, 
Thomas Eakins, Seurat, Henry Moore, Wyndham Lewis, Paul Klee, 
major and minor; at great and lesser poets, Milton, Herbert, Dryden, 
Hardy; it is a conclusion. No such chance of "beauty" ever was with- 
in the possibility of Constable. Examine for absence of composition 
the oil sketch (Venturi evasively has suggested that we should talk 
about Constable's "creations", not his sketches) the oil sketch of 
"The Hay Wain"; or ask how an artist could compose, who was em- 
ployed by nature or waited for a living creature to walk into the 
scene which employed him? If Courbet said of his "Stone-Breakers", 
"I invented nothing, dear friend," yet he composed the old man and 

136 



COURBET, CHIRICO, AND CONSTABLE 

the young, and all about them. He did not slight composition, 
whether in the four legs and four arms of "The Wrestlers", 
the delicate legs of the fighting stags which dip into the snow, 
or in the body which lies like one stroke of an X across the 
hammock. 

The solid base (with form and composition), the romanticism, the 
poetry, the story all of these, within his own definitions for Courbet, 
not all in the same degree of strength, but with more added to them, 
are within Chirico's own art. "Nulla sine narratione ars", he quoted; 
and in one of his own self-portraits, he also painted his hands upon a 
tablet proclaiming "Nulla sine tragoedia gloria* '. Tragedy, and so 
glory, are missing elements, not only from a Constable (and, too, 
from a Courbet, however he touches more of the heart, with the 
ordered, magical pathos of his realism), but from most of the painting 
of our times, though not from de Chirico. Six square inches of ab- 
stract composition from a corner of a Raphael or a Poussin that is 
as much as many of our painters have been pleased with for a picture; 
a picture sine narratione, sine tragoedia, sine gloria. Twenty pictures of 
his contemporaries might be cut from one such picture of de 
Chirico's as the "Interno Metafisico" of 1917. The solid base is in 
de Chirico's early fish, his melons; in his arcades, and green skies and 
distances, and with it, the poetry, the romance; the narratio, the 
pathos, and then tragedy, the missing tragedy, are in these; they are 
in these symbols of the world we are given, when there walks into 
them, or stands in them, the collective man we have made, the 
prodigal sons, of bent and eyeless head, red thigh, compound of 
inanimate bits and pieces and mensuration with triangles for 
hearts; who have been among the swine: 

. . .This painter much admired Courbet 
And realism as the guts of lyric 
He much preferred the night to day 
And the far skylines of the metaphysic. 
All this romance, it seems, was past, 
Leaving for us the witless and terrific. 

"Without tragedy can be no glory" 
Without a bloody heart, no fertile head, 
No work of art can live without some story, 
No one can love upon an iron and concrete bed. 
Homer and Courbet and de Chirico 
Declaimed reality, the green, the red. 
137 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Collective man is coloured but lacks eyes: 
This man may think about his parents' youth, 
May stretch at meaning in the night-green skies, 
And see, though fail to catch, the firefly truth: 
A triangle for a bloody heart can know 
No wrestler's legs, or corn about a Ruth .... 

In the Eblis of Vathek, chamber, hall and gallery in boundless gloom 
and grandeur are "all traversed by persons in search of repose and 
consolation, but who sought them in vain, for everyone carried within 
him (visible through the crystal bosom) "a heart tormented in 
flames". De Chirico's "man" has for heart this triangle, for head a 
blank, for genitals, smoothness of wood. 1 

Such connoisseurs as I have mentioned in England, are content if 
painters have no intellect (reserving all intellect to writers), so long 
as the painters can spin out for them delicate harmonies of colour, in 
which the intelligent feminine patron-critics may find their relaxation 
and repose, and their images of an aesthetic schlaraffenland. A de 
Chirico is not stupid, has not painted either for art historians (excel- 
lent as they are in their hutch) or eunuchs of the spirit. The deifica- 
tion of Constable (or for that matter of many of the virtuosos of the 
abstract) make it possible to consolidate such tasteful arrogance, and 
to keep the paintings of a de Chirico face to the wall or wrap curtains 
around the poems of an Auden. And if one subjects Constable to 
picture-cleaning, if one wipes off from him the opaque varnishes of 
sentiment, nationalism, art-history, and exaggeration, and ignorance, 
until one sees his original, fresh, clean, if limited excellences, alas, 
then, then one realizes that he was an unwitting ancestor of the 
witless, of the composite man without eyes, of a dead nature, dis- 
graced by journalism and an easy sentiment, a nature little levied 
upon for that which it can alone provide of the base of the monu- 
mental, the imaginative, tragical, and glorious. De Tocqueville 
foretold that democracy would "introduce a trading spirit into 
literature". It has. That in democracies "no longer able to soar to 
what is great", artists would "cultivate what is pretty and elegant". 
Indeed they do. "In aristocracies a few great pictures are produced; 
in democratic countries, a vast number of insignificant ones." I 
quote that, no more than de Tocqueville wrote it, as an enemy of 
democracy who would prefer dictatorship. We must make the best of 
our world. But then there does exist, thinly but nobly populated, 

1 Somewhere, I sometimes think in some human cell left somewhere in the wood 
and mensuration of de Chirico's dummy, were composed, the fragmentary poems 
of Mr. T. S. Eliot. 

138 



COURBET, CHIRICO, AND CONSTABLE 

that which Blake called the high rank of art. "What is Grand is 
necessarily obscure to weak men. That which can be made Explicit 
to the Idiot is not worth my care. The wisest of the Ancients con- 
sider'd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because 
it rouses the faculties to act." It is because Constable can be made 
explicit, because he lacks grandeur that, in our day, he is so much 
aggrandized. 



139 



12 

THE DRAWINGS OF HENRY MOORE 

HENRY MOORE is now 1 forty-four years old. He was 
born in Yorkshire, a Yorkshireman, the son of a Yorkshire 
coalminer, in 1898. So he was sixteen when the Great War 
began, and he served in his eighteenth and nineteenth years. When 
he came out of the army he knew what he was going to be. He had 
intended to become a sculptor ever since childhood; and the first 
sculptor he heard of was Michelangelo. He had been told Vasari's 
story of Michelangelo and the head of the Old Fawn, how someone 
joked that old men usually had a tooth or two missing, and how 
Michelangelo, who was fourteen, took this earnestly, and at once 
knocked a stone tooth out of the copy he had made, and tidied up the 
carving of the mouth and gum. Heard when he was ten or eleven, 
this story shaped Henry Moore's determination to be a sculptor; and 
he was also much impressed as a child by the carvings he saw when- 
ever he went into Methley church. 

When he was demobilized, then, and went to the Leeds School of 
Art, in 1919, he clearly, confidently maintained his intention. He 
soon found himself unsatisfied by the normal academic training in 
sculpture, and by the classical models which stood round to be 
drawn and copied. He was lucky: for one thing, in the Leeds Refer- 
ence Library he came across Roger Fry's book, Vision and Design. 
In this way he first learned of negro and Mexican sculpture. Then 
students could also go and see Sir Michael Sadler's collection at 
Leeds, where, for the first time, Moore examined paintings by 
Gaugin and Van Gogh. Roger Fry's book led him to other books on 
negro and ancient sculpture of all kinds, and also gave him the clue 
to the British Museum. Saying that museums or galleries are useless, 
that they kill pictures or sculpture, is a trick, a snobbish trick, handed 
down from the rich dilettante of a past age. In museums and gal- 
leries, for instance, an artist can pick and choose and defend himself 
against academies and schools of art. And this is what Henry Moore 
did in the British Museum, when he came from Leeds to London, to 
the Royal College of Art. He has never underrated the value of his 
academic training. He enjoyed drawing and modelling from the life, 
and he valued the repertory of forms they gave him. But he also 

1 1943. 

140 



THE DRAWINGS OF HENRY MOORE 

wanted to carve. Carving was not encouraged at the R.C.A., but 
Moore conceived that the real tradition of sculpture enjoined the 
hard control and the energy of direct carving. He saw this for himself 
in the sculpture galleries and the heaped-up ethnological glass cases 
of the British Museum, which were to him what the Gothic sculp- 
tures in Westminster Abbey had been to Blake. In the British 
Museum he spent most of his week-ends during his first half-year in 
London. Making a selection from the muddle of crowded carvings 
in the ethnological cases was a critical, enlivening act of self- dis- 
covery. Away from the College, Moore had already begun to carve, 
and he was now beginning to know the more elemental and lively 
sculpture being made in Europe. In Paris, for example, Brancusi 
was carving his tense and rather sleek units of life. 

The next thing Moore did was to win the R.C.A. travelling 
scholarship. It took him abroad for six months. Italy has not always 
had a good effect on English artists, but Moore went there clear in 
his mind that he was not going to be captured by the Renaissance. He 
was after the simple, monumental forms of life. He found them, 
above all, in the remaining chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine at 
Florence, in the solemn, solid figures grouped on the walls by 
Masaccio. He made copies from Masaccio. He made it a rite to go 
to the church for half an hour every day, before doing anything else; 
and he stood looking at these frescoes, which were more lively and 
monumental, and assured, and wonderful than anything he had yet 
seen. Raphael, Michelangelo, and others had gone to the same 
place, and Vasari wrote: "All the most celebrated sculptors since 
Masaccio's day have become excellent and illustrious by studying 
their art in this chapel." 

Many other artists have influenced Henry Moore Giotto, Blake, 
Turner, Picasso. He has seen many other things, such as the palaeo- 
lithic cave paintings in Spain; but he has most of all been moved by 
these Masaccio figures (which he keeps still in his mind), and by the 
hard solemnity of Mexican sculpture. The figures of Masaccio and 
Mexican carvings are in many ways not unlike. In both, detail gives 
way to monumentality and strength. In both, features are made 
simple and subordinate. To different ends, both are grand without 
dictatorial swagger. Both combine deliberation with a held-in im- 
mensity of life. That life, that held-in, immense life, is Moore's 
interest. He is interested in the rounded, solid shapes into which 
life builds itself. And when he came back from Italy, Moore became 
a pilgrim also to the Natural History Museum. In the British 
Museum he had seen the carved symbols of life, in the other he now 

141 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

saw life in its natural forms and framework, from the cells to the 
skeleton. Saying "life" we often mean, especially when discussing 
writing and art, only human life not human form and movement in 
opposition to the form and movement of a dog or a fish, but human 
beings thinking, feeling, desiring, arranging. This is not the life of 
Moore's sculpture. His beings are not springing and leaping, or else 
brooding in conscious expression of some ideal. His interest is not 
for heroes, or harmonious perfection, or gods. In some of his tube- 
shelter drawings, for instance, his women are tortoise- headed, or 
pin-headed. They have not the heads of Madonnas, or angels, or a 
governess by Chardin. Moore has never been attracted by the fag- 
end of the old ideal values of Renaissance Europe. In art, these 
values have decayed lingering through the materialisms of the 
nineteenth century, into a set form. In sculpture, the Renaissance 
Christ has been smoothed into the plaster Christ of the Catholic 
church-furnisher (in the Church of England sculptural passion has 
become taste controlled by diocesan advisory committees); the old 
ideas of nobility and sacrifice have become a howitzer squatting at 
Hyde Park Corner like a petrified toad, the hero has become a Cabi- 
net Minister on a pedestal, in bronze boots. What sculpture needed 
in this country was to be thought out again, or re-explored by feeling. 
So back to life, or the simple, rounded forms of life. Back to seeing, 
and being, everything. Back to the Natural History Museum, as 
well as to Mexican sculpture and Masaccio. 

Henry Moore has made several statements about his own carvings 
in their relation to bones, shells, pebbles, and so on, and also in their 
relation to the religious carving of the Mexicans, the Sumerians, the 
Egyptians, and the negroes. 

"Primitive art ... makes a straight-forward statement, its 
primary concern is with the elemental, and its simplicity comes 
from direct and strong feeling." 

"The most striking quality common to all primitive art is its 
intense vitality. It is something made by people with a direct and 
immediate response to life." 

"Sumerian sculpture shows a richness of feeling for life and its 
wonder and mystery." 

But remember, when you look at the shapes cut and smoothed by 
Henry Moore, that these early peoples, in whose carvings the sense 
of living form was so strong, had an actual pictorial knowledge of life 
much less detailed and extensive than our own. Much has happened 
since, in the seventeenth century, van Leeuwenhoek, the amateur 

142 



THE DRAWINGS OF HENRY MOORE 

scientist and Dutch draper of Delft, looked through his microscopes, 
and saw, for the first time in history, bacteria, spermatozoa, and the 
red corpuscles of the blood. Those early peoples saw life in the form 
of large organisms, brute or man. We see it also in the plates and 
diagrams of a biological text-book. Rounded shapes by Moore may 
be related to a breast, or a pear, or a bone, or a hill, or a pebble shaped 
among other pebbles on a shingle bar. But they might also relate to 
the curves of a human embryo, to an ovary, a sac, or to a single-celled 
primitive organism. Seen with the microscope or revealed by ana- 
tomy, such things are included now in our visual knowledge. Art, or 
the forms of art, change, whether advantageously or not, with such 
knowledge. In the eighteenth century Stubbs painted an exquisite 
bunch of flowers held in a woman's hand up to the nostrils of one of 
his anatomically correct horses. Botanical classification and research 
and interest in gardening helped to make flowers an especial object 
under eighteenth-century eyes. An eighteenth-century physiologist 
investigated the way in which a sunflower follows the sun, therefore 
Blake and other writers used images about the sunflower. Humphry 
Davy gave lectures on science; Coleridge went to them to " increase 
his stock of metaphor". In our age the discovery and study of single- 
celled organisms has been followed by a search after the units, the 
source, the primitive form of expression; and no artist can live by 
himself, or live altogether in, or by, the impressions once vivid in the 
eyes of a dead generation. So when some critics (critics are very often 
stuck fast in the record of old impressions) talk persistently of the 
distorted vision and the disordered mind of contemporary art, one 
must discover their premises, discover whether they are born of 
reason or prejudice. They may be simply showing the restriction 
of their own experience. Acadefnic critics will not be familiar with the 
cells and organs and elements of life, if they read only Plato and Jane 
Austen, look only at a lion by Rubens and a lady by Gainsborough. 
Biology must also be acknowledged; and some of the dislike of those 
things which painters and sculptors do at the present time certainly 
does come from this restriction, does come from a narrow, negative 
sixth-form and university education in the half inhuman humanities. 
To be interested in life, as Moore is, rather below the conscious level, 
is not to be sub-human. The rounded limbs of a human foetus, a fer- 
tilized egg, or the heart of a water flea, or even the pneumococcus that 
chokes and ruins lungs with pneumonia, would not, when realized 
with the bigness of life, be less worthy than a lounge suit in white 
marble or an Alsatian dog a million times smoothly reproduced in 
coloured china. 

143 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

All the same it is not so easy to value Moore's big sense of the 
wonder and mystery of universal life. When I look at his carvings I 
sometimes have to reflect that so much of our visual experience of the 
anatomical details and microscopical forms of life comes to us, not 
direct, but through the biologist. Microscopical forms are as "big" 
as any other forms, but the "intense vitality" of primitive art was 
given to carvings because the carvers had a direct knowledge of ani- 
mals as vehicles of life, alert, walking, leaping and at rest. I do 
not say that Moore's pantheism is a motive as exalted as the vision of 
human life in Raphael's School of Athens or Michelangelo's two 
sonnets 

Heaven-born, the soul a heavenward course must hold; 
Beyond the visible world she soars to seek, 
(For what delights the sense is false and weak) 
Ideal Form, the universal mould, 

and so on. Moore's pantheism is not Goethe's or Wordsworth's. 
Moore does not play up Nature as a beauty. His carvings by no 
means always reach the grandeur of life. Big without being pompous, 
the life he carves, you might say, has only the virtue sometimes of 
not being dead. But that is one virtue up on a lip-service to human- 
ism coupled with a sly and silent support of the robber principles of 
modern society. Life as life is simply a beginning, an honest be- 
ginning, after varieties in European art of decayed idealism, realism, 
moralism, and pathos hard and soft. And this life is not by any 
means the whole of Henry Moore's art. The only vision in art, or 
feeling in art, is an embodied feeling. Let us see how Moore's vision 
is bodied out in his sculpture and, particularly in his drawings. 

ii 

In Gloucester Cathedral, screens and arches of stone, thrown 
across the interior, create depth, create ordered images of eternity 
and infinity. At one place thin stone ribs leap up with superb skill to 
meet, at a sharp, tense point of spiritual contact, a strut thrusting 
down from the roof. Here is the builders' intellect brilliantly inter- 
preting the mysteries of religion. In the limestone cliffs of the Gower 
peninsula, a huge wall, cut through with windows and a door, closes 
in a narrow, tall cleft, inside which the rock twists into fantastic 
forms. The rock swirls, and a hollow communicates with another 
hollow through a deep hole. In the Cathedral, a religious mystery; 
in the cleft, or cave, a natural mystery, emphasized by man. Come 
down in scale. Outside the cave there is a beach of pebbles, some of 

144 



THE DRAWINGS OF HENRY MOORE 

grey, some of pink limestone, ground into different rounded shapes, 
cut into with hollows, or pierced with holes. The pebble is a cave in 
the round, and the pebble and the cleft are types of the art of Henry 
Moore. Analogies are at once obvious: the darkness of the womb, 
and shapes swelling and thrusting from it; the bony structure of ribs, 
the round socket of eyes. Eyes in bone, the heart in bone, the embryo 
in a nook among bones. Or think of another series, the phallus, the 
tree, the erect posture of human beings, the standing stones of 
Avebury, the stone images more precisely carved on the slopes of 
Easter Island, the tapering of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, or of 
an obelisk, or of a peak in the Julian Alps. Anything solid that can 
show the "wonder and mystery" of life appeals to Henry Moore. 
But his interest is somewhere above the type, in between the cave 
(or tube tunnel) and the cathedral, the pebble and the perfect ball, 
the megalith at Avebury, roughly shaped by the people who put it 
up, and the cathedral spire. Something still and ordered in the 
fecundity and muddle of life. His tendency is to humanize rock or 
wood or bone or geological shape, or biological specimen. That com- 
promise produces some of the most monumental, but also at times 
some of the least moving of Moore's work. His stony reclining 
landscape women need to be nearer women, very often, or else fur- 
ther from them; more natural or else more abstract. But his love of 
the cave and hollow and deep carving gives him room for all kinds of 
subtlety. His objects of life may be still a kidney cannot throw a 
discobolus or hold tables of law his objects may sprawl, but his 
scale is always big and he arranges with moving intricacy mass 
against hollow, hollow against line, and height and breadth. That, 
after all, is one element by which painting and sculpture have satis- 
fied and delighted human beings all through history and all through 
changes of style and subject. Compare a tube shelter drawing, for 
example, the Four Grey Sleepers, with Raphael's Three Graces. How- 
ever the two visions differ, the means are exactly the same. In 
Raphael's three standing figures, the dance of the arms, the heads, 
the legs, the breasts; in Moore's four sleepers, the solemn, monu- 
mental rhythm of the blanket shapes, each stretching outwards from 
the head, lying like stones on the ground, the rhythm of head against 
head differently turned, arm against arm, dark depth against depth. 
Moore has written of the sculptor's need to "think of, and use form 
in its full spatial completeness", to think of the solid shape "whatever 
its size, as if he were holding it completely enclosed in the hollow of 
his hand". And it is necessary, he says, "to feel shape simply as 
shape, not as description or reminiscence". But he also admits that 
F 145 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

forms have their meaning: "rounded forms convey an idea of fruit- 
fulness, maturity". So, like the great inventors, Moore balances his 
road in between the theorem and the heart. Why else does an early 
painter set up a crucifix in an agony of rocks and skulls, or a painter 
of the eighteen-hundreds square up a lime-kiln in a wild valley, or 
extend the arc of a rainbow across the fertile medley of a landscape? 
Why else the circle and rectograms of Stonehenge in the desolate 
spread of Salisbury Plain? 

In the mess and muddle and fecundity of life which he finds 
wonderful and mysterious, Moore puts together shapes by which all 
that life is both ordered and symbolized. 

in 

Sculpture is a severe drill for an artist. No man can jot down the 
sudden illumination, the harmonious, momentary blend of experi- 
ences, by the immediate hacking out of a piece of stone. He cannot 
carve very well from nature. He can do these things in oil paint, 
easier still in ink or pencil or chalk, or in water-colour. A sculptor 
can pinch his flash of experience into wax or into clay, but he will not 
be inclined to do that, if he believes that he must feel in the material 
he uses, wood or stone. It is better to draw. 

"At one time, whenever I made drawings for sculpture, I tried to 
give them as much the illusion of real sculpture as I could that is, 
I drew by the method of illusion, of light falling on a solid object." 
This stoniness or woodenness of drawing was less alien to the slow 
carving of the final object than the pinching and dabbing of such an 
opposite, soft material as clay. Later Moore found it dangerous to 
make his drawings too much a "substitute for sculpture". The 
sculpture was "likely to become only a dead realization of the draw- 
ing", so he put down his three-dimensional vision on paper without 
all the three-dimensional illusions. He draws, all the same, "mainly 
as a help towards making sculpture", tapping himself, in his own 
words, for the first idea, sorting out ideas, developing them, realizing 
ideas he hasn't time to realize more solidly, and recording from 
Nature. But he also admits drawing for the enjoyment of drawing. A 
sign of the artist with great ability is that he can translate the first 
recorded flash into the more considered, better ordered perfection of 
the final painting or the final carving, with the flash undiminished 
and a strength added to it. Sickert once said, unromantically and 
truly, that "the sketches of a sketcher are separated by a gulf from 
those of the painter of pictures". But the ability to draw, to make a 

146 



THE DRAWINGS OF HENRY MOORE 

powerful and appealing use of line, always will be a major indication 
of $n artist's rank and vision. Moore is one of the few living artists I 
know who can scarcely put down a line without giving it life and 
interest, and a reason for this is that Nature is attractive to him: that 
he can see into natural objects. Light, for most of us, is the most 
effective of all black-outs. It reveals so many familiar aspects to us 
that we cease to notice the rest of the outside world. Moore reminds 
me of a deep-sea fish found off one of the Dutch spice islands. These 
fish have head-lamps of luminous bacilli near their eyes, and the 
light can be shut on and off at will. Moore doesn't just see: he sees in 
his own light. He sees everything, the scratch on the bone, the cur- 
vature of hills, the graining of bark; he sees into qualities and relation 
of objects, roundness, depth, darkness, surface, colour, solidity, 
everything, by means of his own light. He can shut his own light off, 
or, rather, he can turn it inwards, and ponder within himself over the 
things it has revealed. An artist so thoroughly possessed by vision 
records something of it simply by making any considered mark on a 
piece of paper. In the corners and unemphatic parts of the drawings 
and paintings of such men, when working at their best, there are no 
strokes or spots, without rhythm, meaning life, and interest. No 
dullness, nothing emptily and carelessly unrealized. Compare the 
zig-zagging lines of the floor (any section of it as full as most abstract 
paintings of our time) and the veining of the right-hand pillars in 
Raphael's Fire in the Borgo. 

All this is true of Moore's drawings for sculpture as well as his 
drawings for drawing, or the enjoyment of drawing. Drawing as an 
end was somewhat forced upon him, I think, by the war. For one 
thing, stone cannot be so easily transported, either to his studio, or 
from his studio to exhibitions. The drawings gained from this. In 
his earlier, more elaborate drawings in which figures of life establish 
themselves out of uncertainty and darkness, he had been able to re- 
cord a whole, more intricate and extensive in scale than can very well 
be contained in isolated objects of stone. In these drawings the stones 
have been erect in their setting of landscape and emotion. But they 
have been drawings in between idea and hard carving. To war-time 
drawings, such as the Four Grey Sleepers again, he has given back 
some of the stoniness and depth that he had guarded against in 
drawings meant for sculpture. Here we can thrust the arms of our 
sight in among forms in an almost "full spatial completeness". Here 
in these shelter drawings, most of the sculptor and all of the draughts- 
men have been at work; and the deep figures in their setting are 
not just figures of life: they are figures of life (at least, in the tube 

147 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

series), the wonder of which is terrifically threatened. The figures 
still belong to the mass of life; they are below the edge of will. Rather 
than life vertebrate, active and thinking, they are life to which things 
(terrible things) are being done. Moore was also forced by the sub- 
ject of the tube shelter and coal-mining drawings nearer to the 
natural proportions of men and women. This was a gain, just as, 
under other circumstances, a move away from his stony human com- 
promise towards completer abstraction has also been a gain. In fact, 
in the drawings of 1942, Moore was moving back towards sculpture 
and^asserting once more that he is not bound to any original. The 
way Moore develops and changes, moving on from one position to 
another like this, also proves his curiosity and power. He has been 
influenced by one thing and another, Masaccio and Mexican sculp- 
ture, Picasso and cathedral carvings, the effect of natural forces upon 
stone, English mediaeval pottery, etc., but he has always kept and 
developed his own idiom. He has never so far, allowed himself to 
stick in one phase, or made a habit of repeating himself until style 
has become a manner. He is always on the move, stalking, at times, 
towards the explicit. l 

IV 

But colour. I have not spoken of Henry Moore's colour, pre- 
ferring to keep that, a bit artificially, until last. Colour should be, and 
certainly is with Moore, an extension of drawing. Just as an artist of 
vision cannot often record a stroke without quality, so he cannot 
keep feeling and experience, and himself, out of his intimations of 
tone and colour. A clear way of describing the relation and dance of 
colour has never been worked out, I suppose partly because we in- 
herit the notion that colour is sensuality and pomp and vanity, and 
not a first thing to be considered in the putting together and ordering 
of a picture. But colour has regained honour with us since the 
eighteenth century. Then, when mathematics and order were the 
prime interests, colours were subdued and browns and greys had 
their day. The university don, as often, years behind the time, wrote 
in 1817: "the delightful green of Nature cannot be represented in a 
picture. . . . Nature must be stripped of her green livery, and dressed 
in the browns of the painters, or confined to her own autumnal tints, 
in order to be transferred to the canvas". But when reason, or the 
conduct of human understanding, began to give way to enthusiasm 
and spontaneity, when mathematical began to give way to natural 

1 Since I wrote this the most explicit of Moore's carvings has been his Madonna 
and Child, for St. Matthew's Church, Northampton, of which one can say "This is 
what Moore feels, this also is what Moore thinks." 

148 



THE DRAWINGS OF HENRY MOORE 

sciences, when light began to shine, colour, and, in particular, water- 
colour, with its scope, vividness and speed, began to come in, with the 
injunction to honour originality, the first idea, and Nature. First 
colour comes in flatly, clearly, and thinly, as a combination of smooth 
tints. Think of Rowlandson or Stubbs. In various degrees colour 
then was an adjunct of drawing. It gains richness and sparkle, de- 
veloping into a medium. Think of taffeta in Reynolds (whose draw- 
ing, it was said, lay under his paint) or in Gainsborough. Think of 
colour in such poets as Mickle or Chatterton: 

The yellow broom, where chirp the linnets gay, 
Waves round the cave; and to the blue-streaked skyes 
A shattered rock towres up in fragments gray. 

In much of th^ most balanced or most natural painting of romantic 
landscape, for example, in the church walls and windows of Cotman, 
the water-colours of Turner, the open and shut weather of Con- 
stable, colour, as a record of personal exuberance, strikes a bargain 
with colour as a record of Nature. But in a really good water-colour 
by Cotman, for example, the colours have their exquisite relation to 
each other, their quality, and their character as drawing. No point 
or patch of colour is without the interest of personal quality. The 
colours also fulfil the subject in a harmony of feeling. Later on, for 
example, in some Preraphaelite painting, this agreement and har- 
mony disappear. You get, say, three pictures in one, a subject with- 
out true relation to its drawing, and drawing and subject without 
true relation to the colours, which are there simply as an accurate 
transcript. The lovely effectiveness of colour in drawings by Henry 
Moore is much fed, of course, from his appetite for the colours, in 
nature, the lichen on the grey rock, the coloured texture of weather- 
worn stone, the fiery black and red of igneous formations or burning 
coal, and so on. But because he is so much free of having to say yes 
to objects, so he is more or less free of having to bargain with the 
colour of objects. His objects, his line, his ordering, freely represent 
his vision of life; by his colours he is freely represented as well. So 
in English art his nearer relations are not Cotman or Constable, so 
much as Blake and James Ward and Turner. He admires James 
Ward's Bull and Gordale Scar. He admires Turner for his bigness and 
energy, and as a painter of coloured abstraction, and tornado, and 
water-spout. Moore's colour, as in Blake's Newton, is a free, per- 
sonal, expressive colour; which also helps and fills out the design. 
And Blake stands near the beginning of a process working down to 
de Chirico and Wyndham Lewis, and Moore himself, a process which 

149 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

comes at last to a personal freedom of colour in an art which is, or 
nearly is, abstract. 

In some coloured drawings by Moore I feel the colour as a bait to 
the eye, a very attractive bait, icing, cherries and angelica on shapes 
for sculpture. But his deepest drawings are right, and full of surprise, 
in their colour, which speaks as an indivisible part of the total effect, 
the total meaning, his entire view of the "wonder and mystery" of 
life. Most of his drawings may simply be for sculpture; but I am not 
sure, much as he will dislike the idea, that Moore's claim on us does 
not really derive from the freedom and big splendour of his best 
drawings as much as from most pieces of stone and wood that he has 
carved. But there would be no drawings without the carving, no 
carvings without the drawing. 

There is a statement I quote once again, which fits the work of 
Henry Moore: 

Nature is played out as a Beauty, but not as a Mystery ... I 
don't want to see the original realities as optical effects, that is. I 
want to see the deeper reality underlying the scenic, the expression 
of what are sometimes called abstract imaginings. 

And it was made, you will recollect, by Thomas Hardy many years 
ago. 



150 



13 



HOW MUCH ME NOW YOUR ACROBATICS 

AMAZE 

Whoever has the power of creating, has likewise 
the inferior power of keeping his creation in order. 

W. S. LANDOR. 

SUPPOSE one were compelled to decide between " reason" 
and "romance": it is, surely, no more the reason of 1700 that 
one would choose than the romance of 1800 one would easily 
reject. "Romance" is too simple a pejorative. In the eighteenth 
century one could be "romantic" under reason, and in the nine- 
teenth century one could be rational under romance. The "romance" 
we are drifting back to in England is a romance without reason: it is 
altogether self-indulgent and liquescent. An Inky Cap mushroom 
grows up white and firm and then flops down into a mess of ink 
which is our new romance, something once alive which avoids no 
longer the decay into death. It is so much easier to flop, so much 
easier to give up the metabolism of life and literature, in a time which 
is contemptuous of law, and when there is no body of opinion at all 
clear about what is true and untrue, possible and impossible, prob- 
able and improbable. And so now a poet (Mr. George Barker) can 
fill nine-tenths of a book with such lines as: 

O dolphins of my delight I fed with crumbs 
Gambading through bright hoops of days, 
How much me now your acrobatics amaze 
Leaping my one-time ecstacies from Doldrums . . . 

and another (Mr. Stephen Spender) declare 

And there was many another name 
Dividing the sun's light like a prism 
With the rainbow colours of an "ism" 

not only without critical eyebrow-raising, but with the evocation 
of the highest praise. If, in the most public way possible, in some 
periodical of the widest circulation and the highest repute, one were 
to examine such poetry, turn it inside out, expatiate with the greatest 
clarity and skill on the nature of poetry and its function in life, prove 

151 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

the awkwardness, limpness, and absurdity of these crumb-fed 
dolphins, nothing would happen, no one would notice. Objection, 
reason, proof all would be swamped and swallowed in the universal 
mess. 

Thinking of some of Gerard Hopkins 's strictures on Browning, I 
have collected a number of pieces from another book of recent 
poems, full of lions and amber and dust and dew: 

1. ... bird-blood leaps within our veins 

And is changed to emeralds like the sap in the grass. 

2. And you are the sound of the growth of spring in the heart's 

deep core. 

3. And I would that each hair on my head was an angel 

O my red Adam. 

4. O heed him not, my dew with golden feet 
Flying from me. 

5. But the sap in these dry veins sang like a bird: 

"I was the sea that knew the siren song 
And my veins heard 
A planet singing in the Dorian mode . . ." 

6. Another old man said: 

"I was a great gold-sinewed King, I had a lion's mane 
Like the raging sun ..." 

7. Were those the veins that heard the Siren's song? 

8. So changed is she by Time's appalling night 
That even her bone can no more stand upright. 

9. ... but the long wounds torn by Time in the golden cheek 

Seem the horizons of the endless cold. 

10. ... and the first soundless wrinkles fall like snow 
On many a golden cheek 

1 1 . The kiss that holds . . . the rose that weeps in the blood. 

12. But now only the red clover 

lies over the breath of the lion and the mouth of the lover. 

All these it is Hopkins 's phrase are frigidities, all of them un- 
truths to nature, the emerald blood jumping in the veins, the angelic 
coiffure, dew with feet, veins with ears, sinews made of gold, cheek 
wounds like landscapes, wrinkles falling like snow, the rose weeping 
in the veins, the earth and plants on top of the dead lion's breath all 
frigidities except 2 and 8 (heart's deep core heart's deep heart), 
which are specimens of the undiluted art of sinking. The poetry they 
come from is chimerical. The chimera has a lion's head, a goat's 

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HOW MUCH ME NOW YOUR ACROBATICS AMAZE 

body, and a serpent's tail. The lion's head is a lion no longer real (as 
the lions of Dry den were real: 

And still for him the Lioness stalks 

And hunts her lover through the lonely walks). 

The goat's body (and hair) is the absence of form; the serpent's 
tail the lines elongating into nothingness. Gerard Hopkins found 
it monstrous (his word once more, and I am speaking of the chimeri- 
cal) monstrous in Browning's Instans Tyrannus, that the sky was 
written of as a shield protecting the just man from the tyrant "The 
vault of heaven is a vault, hollow, concave towards us, convex up- 
wards; it therefore could only defend man on earth against enemies 
above it; an angry Olympus for instance." He held that Browning 
had "all the gifts but the one needful and the pearls without the 
string; rather, one should say raw nuggets and rough diamonds". 
His turning of concave into convex was a "frigidity", an "untruth to 
nature". It came of "frigid fancy with no imagination"; and frigid 
fancy describes the gilded stringless writing from which I have 
panned these dozen samples, writing of an order lower than that of 
Browning, and more full of untruths to nature. 

Two signs of our drift into "romance" are the writing of such 
poetry, and the reception of it. The reception of these poems has 
been marked with the epithets of greatness in a hallelujah of reviews. 
If the poet (who is Miss Sitwell) adds to the reassembly, to the 
reiteration of the great truisms of life and time and youth and age 
and decay and death, to the repetition of adjectives (golden, etc.) 
no longer valid for our sense of wonder, she has added nothing from 
nature. In fact, it is the ubiquitous confidence of the day that any- 
thing, any first impression, can be crammed into formless verse 
without the self- discipline and self-criticism which are the sources 
of form; the sources of that composition in which, Henry James 
declared, exists the "principle of health and safety". And that, 
exactly, is where our new "romance", in all its guises, is decadent and 
different to, shall one say, the romance of Coleridge. It is dragging 
the past for verbiage, for words out of their setting, nature not at all, 
and the self for disorderly nonsense. Coleridge was a scientifically- 
minded poet, curious about self, the past, and the given nature around 
him. If the glitter and the excellence of a phenomenon in nature 
appealed to him, he did not crawl like a spaniel to its charm or 
mystery. He had seen, for example, the Glory, described in the 
Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester y in 
1790, by a Fellow of the Royal Society. The Glory is the rainbow 

153 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

which surrounds the shadow of your head upon mist when the mist 
is in the right place below you, and the sun in the right place behind 
you. But instead of using the Glory as an ornament (as I have 
explained in writing of the Aeolian Harp), Coleridge used it in 
Dejection, and again in Constancy to an Ideal Object, to express his 
deepest exploration into the relation of man to nature: 

. . . would we aught behold of higher worth, 
Than that inanimate cold world, allow'd 
To the poor, loveless, ever-anxious crowd, 
Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth 
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud 
Enveloping the earth 
And from the soul itself must there be sent 
A sweet and potent voice of its own birth. 

Nature to Coleridge and Wordsworth, as romantics, may have been 
very different to nature as uniformity and commonsense for Dryden 
and for Pope. For an image, Dryden and Pope might never have 
used a phenomenon such as the Glory, so much outside the general 
experience of mankind. Yet even if Coleridge was a poet of the age of 
spontaneity and of expression of the individual self, his intellect 
never abdicated; he was born in the eighteenth century, he lived 
within the influence of its controls. Even if he drugged himself with 
opium, he only published Kubla Khan, it is at least worth recalling 
now, at someone else's request, "and, as far as the Author's own 
opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on 
the ground of any supposed poetic merits". "Psychological curiosity": 
this is perhaps the point for reminding oneself of Mr. Dylan Thomas, 
who has become one of the "greater" poets of our grey time, and 
before whom (so much have things changed since Sir John Squire 
greeted The Waste Land with "a grunt would serve equally well") 
even the conventional critics have begun abasing themselves. Mr. 
Eliot's poems have their seldom-mentioned shortcomings, as of some 
half-man who has escaped with a few guarded fragments of human- 
ity, or divinity, from what Mr. Edward Dahlberg has called "the 
most clinkered land in the world for the artist to live in"; but one 
would not name Mr. Eliot's poems "psychological curiosities". Mr. 
Eliot's poems live tightly above the waist rather higher than that, 
above the heart; Mr. Thomas's live, sprawl loosely, below the waist. 
Mr. Eliot is a reasoning creature. The self in Mr. Thomas's poem 
seems inhuman and glandular. Or rahter like water and mud and 
fumes mixed in a volcanic mud-hole, in a young land. Those who 

154 



HOW MUCH ME NOW YOUR ACROBATICS AMAZE 

admire his poems, one concludes, are fascinated because there is 
something primal and universal in the underground fury by which 
they are generated; but not to worry the metaphor too far, one would 
prefer a man's poetry to break out of the common fury at least like a 
geyser, at least with the force and cleanness of form at least with the 
meaning of a pillar; and not with the meaningless hot sprawl of mud. 
Mr. Thomas is a poet, Miss Edith Sitwell has remarked, whose 
work is "on a huge scale both in theme and structurally". She 
must imply, not just that his poems are about birth, death and 
love, in his newest book, but that Mr. Thomas says something 
about his theme, says something on a huge scale, and by "huge" 
again Miss Sitwell must imply a scale of meditation equal to 
Wordsworth's in The Prelude, Blake's upon the contrary states of the 
human soul, Shakespeare's in The Tempest, or Goethe's in Faust. 
One cannot demolish Mr. Thomas's poems by demolishing Miss 
Sitwell's critical discernment; but one can say that even Mr. 
Thomas's most recent book, Deaths and Entrances, shows, not a 
theme, not meditation, but simply obsession; obsession with birth, 
death, and love, and obsession mainly in a muddle of images with 
only the frailest ineptitude of structure. Rhyme schemes begin and 
break. Rhythms start off and falter, into incoherent prose. Image 
repeats image, in a tautology of meaning. If a poet rhymes, he must 
twist his rhymes to the exigencies of impulse, or illumination; not, 
as Mr. Thomas very often does, twist, and so falsify, his illumination 
to the exigencies of rhyme. And when he determines to keep his pur- 
pose, being too unskilful in words, he nearly- rhymes. Near rhymes 
have their virtue, but only if they come as deliberately as true rhyme, 
and have, against each other, the proper weight, accent, and length; 
but Mr. Thomas's ineptitude licenses him to write 

Lie still, sleep becalmed, sufferer with the wound 

In the throat, burning and turning. All night afloat 

On the silent sea we have heard the sound 

That came from the wound wrapped in the salt sheet. 

Afloat-sheet is Mr. Thomas's skill. Here, too, is Mr. Thomas 
faltering into prose (though perhaps one should characterize his 
poems as attempts to falter out of prose): Some movement begins: 

Friend by enemy I call you out. 

You with a bad coin in your socket, 
You my friend there with a winning air 
then smash: 

155 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Who palmed the lie on me when you looked 
Brassily at my shyest secret. 

To display most kinds of Mr. Thomas's formal awkwardness, it 
would be most fair to read through a short poem, since in three 
stanzas the difficulties of form are easier to resolve (and in this poem, 
On a Wedding Anniversary, see again the rhythm smashed in the 
third line): 

The sky is torn across 

This ragged anniversary of two 

Who moved for three years in tune 

Down the long walks of their vows. 

Now their love lies a loss 

And Love and his patients roar on a chain; 

From every true or crater 

Carrying cloud, Death strikes their house. 

Too late in the wrong rain 

They come together whom their love parted: 

The windows pour into their heart 

And the doors burn in their brain. 

Clouds with craters are like veins with ears; more ridiculous, in fact, 
than Nat Lee's night-raven with huge wicker wings, and strange 
eyes: "In each black Eye there rolls a Pound of Jet." Syntactically 
Mr. Thomas makes wonders of awkwardness; not, one feels, from 
theory, but because his words are nearly automatic, his words come 
up bubbling in an automatic muddle. 

Never until the mankind making 

Bird beast and flower 

Fathering and all humbling darkness 

Tells with silence the last light breaking 

And the still hour 

Is come of the sea tumbling in harness 

construable just, but made none the more active or effective by 
the confusion (or by darkness: harness). 
No more, no less construable is: 

There was a saviour 
In the churches of his tears 
There was calm to be done in his safe unrest 
Children kept from the sun 
On to the ground when a man has died 
156 



HOW MUCH ME NOW YOUR ACROBATICS AMAZE 

To hear the golden note turn in a groove, 
Silence, silence to do, when earth grew loud 
In the jails and studies of his keyless smiles 

a stanza upon which Mr. Thomas's explorers and admirers should 
meditate, for reasons which I shall give later. And like a child, 
learning to talk, or a journalist, Mr. Thomas deals in the striking, 
but rootless image, and in the cliche turned once below a time, all the 
sun long, happy as the heart was long a bad coin in your socket; word- 
tumbling without either gravity of point, or point of fun (as when 
Lewis Carroll writes "Either you or your head must be off, and that 
in about half no time.") 

Mr. Thomas does indeed work, as a child works, towards form and 
coherence. From the shape of one poem he must have been looking 
at George Herbert. But otherwise his poetry as near as may be is the 
poetry of a child, volcanic, and unreasoning, who has seldom read, 
and little cared for, the poets of his own language, and allowed them 
little power over his own manipulation or rather automatism: 

How soon the servant sun 

(Sir morrow mark) 

Can time unriddle, and the cupboard store 

(Fog has a bone 

He'll trumpet into meat) 

Unshelve that all my gristles have a gown 

And the naked egg stand strange . . . 

The power which these poems appear to exercise over readers does 
not reside in sense, demonstrably; it does not reside in music, it does 
not reside in an ordered, musical non-sense. The unit, one realizes, 
in Mr. Thomas's poetry, is neither poem, nor stanza, it is phrase 
or line, which by accident suggests the next phrase, or the next line, 
the sopipsist image which suggests the next solipsism; power resides 
in the novel suggestion, in these massed solipsisms, of the strange, 
the magical, the profound; and in fact their strangeness is little else 
than the strangeness of Mr. Thomas, their profundity little beyond 
the Indian-ink deepnesses of an individual, their magic little else 
than what appears to be a black magic. (Here perhaps I should inter- 
polate that the second, just-construable piece which I quoted from 
Mr. Thomas, is one made up by myself of disconnected lines from 
three stanzas of one poem. But between, then and now, I hope any 
idolater will have taken his time to admire it, and to meditate upon 
it; for it reads, I am convinced, as authentically as most of Mr. 
Thomas's stanzas.) 

157 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

Mr. Thomas, as I say, cannot help what bubbles into him and 
bubbles out; but to invest these black magical bubblings, as critics 
feel them to be, with greatness, in spite of here and there a fancy, 
even a "sublime" fancy (though often it is "the sublime dashed in 
pieces by cutting too close with the fiery four-in-hand round the 
corner of nonsense"), here and there even a poem to do that de- 
serves many descriptions, of which I will mention only one, 
that it seems a little out of date. The "new romanticism", 
of which Mr. Dylan Thomas's poetry is the exemplar, became 
articulate and "new" some twenty years ago in the hey-day of 
Transition] and as Mr. Wyndham Lewis made plain in attacking 
Transition in The Diabolical Principle, it was not new even then. 
Muddled up with politics, the "new romanticism" of Transition was 
based considerably upon Lautreamont, whose diabolism, minus the 
politics (and minus a clear sense of the devil, and minus the will to be 
devilish) soaked into Mr. Dylan Thomas in his Welsh childhood. 
"That this bric--brac," wrote Mr. Lewis of Lautreamont, "should 
be seriously presented as the exemplar of the best or newest seems 
impossible. That it should be ... published to catch Vhomme moyel 
sensuel, on account of its blood-dripping fangs associated with the 
milk-white bodies of virgins, is as natural and harmless as that 
Fanny Hill should never be quite out of print, or that the History of a 
Flea or even the 'bourgeois' pornography of Paul de Rock's Ten 
Pairs of Drawers should remain scandalous best-sellers. But there, 
you would suppose, the joke would end once the gull's money was 
safely transferred from his bank to that of the sagacious . . . literary 
publisher. . . . But that is not the case." Mr. Thomas once defined 
his notion of poetry: "Whatever is hidden should be made naked. 
To be stripped of darkness is to be clean, to strip of darkness is to 
make clean. Poetry, recording the stripping of individual darkness 
must, inevitably, cast light upon what has been hidden for too long, 
and by so doing make clean the naked exposure." "Whatever is 
hidden ..." It suggests the disinfection of psychological ordure 
as if, in Ananda Coomaraswamy's words,"as if the artist had nothing 
better to do than make an exhibition of himself to his neighbour". 
And what self-adulation, what absence of humility, what insolence 
(even if Mr. Thomas is not altogether to be blamed for it), to believe 
in the importance to others of the stripping of one's own dirty, 
individual darkness, which must be made clean! Art, yes, as the 
peeling off of the ten pairs of drawers! 

Yesterday's heresy has become with the middlemen, and Us 
hommes moyen sensuels, to-day's provincial orthodoxy. The poetry of 

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HOW MUCH ME NOW YOUR ACROBATICS AMAZE 

the unpeeled drawers is now acceptable. But we should take care. 
What I believe should be our concern in all this war and post-war 
drift back into a decayed romance is not; first of all, to use " romance " 
pejoratively because of any such examples, not to throw away every- 
thing that genuine "romance", everything that poets and artists, 
everything that psychologists from Coleridge to Freud, everything 
that anthropologists have curiously revealed about the source and 
nature of the arts. Dryden's poetry, and Poussin's painting (even if 
one does not need to underwrite all the views of Dryden's age or 
Poussin's age about nature and reason), are always there, as models of 
control. It is ironic to think that we can once more read Boileau 
with profit; that Boileau at whom Keats had to make a long nose: 

A Poem, where we all perfections find, 

Is not the work of a Fantastick mind: 

There must be Care, and Time, and Skill, and Pains; 

Not the first heat of unexperienc'd Brains. 

Yet sometimes Artless Poets, when the rage 

Of a warm Fancy does their minds ingage, 

PufPd with vain pride, presume they understand, 

And boldly take the Trumpet in their hand; 

Their Fustian Muse each accident confound; 

Nor can she fly, but rise by leaps and bounds, 

Till their small stock of learning quickly spent 

Their poem dyes for want of nourishment. 

With impudence the Laurel they invade 

Resolv'd to like the Monsters they have made. 

But still, as I say, we do not want to throw away the discoveries of 
the last hundred and fifty years, or the last forty years, we do not 
want to waste them because so many writers and artists, and so many 
critics, now are debasing themselves to a new exclusive set of dogmas 
derived from the very things discovered. Art being an artist is 
subject to entropy; or is a perpetual walking across a tight rope, with 
death and disaster either side and below. And the Englightenment 
of Dryden and Pope tailed off, too, by making reason's light a dogma 
when nothing was left to enlighten. 

No one has added up and analysed the whole romantic slide with 
more skill and more power, than W. H. Auden, in an essay, Criticism 
in a Mass Society, which was little noticed in the England of neo- 
romance. To the critic, he wrote "Slogans like Art for Art's sake, or 
Art for Politic's sake, will be equally objectionable." The critic "will 
flatter neither the masses by assuring them that what is popular must 

159 



THE HARP OF AEOLUS 

be good, nor the highbrows by assuring them that what is avantgarde 
must be superior. Further, he will conceive of art, like life, as being a 
self- discipline father than a self-expression ... he will distrust the 
formless, the expansive, the unfinished, and the casual." 

But in combatting the slide into romance, into idiot romance, we 
have to be careful not to encourage the white and dry which sterilize 
the creative impulse. Even that danger does not mean that we should 
be afraid to recover our wits and our honesty, and speak out now and 
then, afraid because we may seem to be betraying a cause to the old 
enemy, and assuring Sir John Squire, or whoever carries his mantle 
in these later years, that he was right. 



Postscript: As I read this in proof, I discover that Mr. Thomas has 
also published a recipe for the writing of his poems: "I let an image 
be made from my subconscious, and from that first image I let" 
this is peculiar "its opposite emerge. These two images then war 
with each other, producing a third; the poem becoming a water-tight 
column of images." Wyndham Lewis once defined art as "a constant 
stronghold of the purest human conscioiisness" This definition of 
Mr. Thomas's is making art the constant stronghold of certainly not 
the purest (since purity implies sifting and discernment) human, or 
sub-human, subconsciousness. 



160 




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